My personal opinion on the ‘first past the post’ FPTP electoral system, which has traditionally determined British Parliamentary elections, is that it has two principal advantages. Firstly, it has generally delivered a clear winner, and so ensured a decisive outcome to elections. Secondly, it ensures there is always a direct link between Members of Parliament and a constituency.
By contrast, more proportional elective systems can create uncertain outcomes and they do bring the risk that small and often unrepresentative parties can gain disproportionate influence.
Another disadvantage of more proportional electoral systems is that they depend on large, multi-member constituencies, which makes it difficult for elected politicians to relate closely to a local area. For example, MEPs who are elected on a proportional system to represent us in the European Parliament have to represent the whole of London between them, so are inevitably less well-known to electors in a single area such as Greenwich and Woolwich.
Having said that, there are serious downsides to the FPTP system, notably that governments are usually elected with less than 50 per cent of the votes cast. For that reason, I am personally supportive of the Alternative Vote (AV) system for Parliamentary elections, which allows voters to place candidates in order of preference (1, 2, 3 etc.) rather than simply putting a cross besides one name.
Under the AV system, only candidates who secure more than 50 percent of the first preference votes are automatically elected. In other instances, the second preference votes of electors whose first preferences went to candidates who secured the least support are redistributed until one candidate reaches the 50 per cent threshold, or until all other candidates are eliminated. This gives greater weight to the views of those who voted for losing candidates, whilst retaining the link between MP and constituency. I will therefore be supporting the introduction of AV for British Parliamentary elections.
I have in the past helped introduce a similar system of voting. As Minister responsible for the Greater London Authority, I put in place the supplementary vote system for the election of the Mayor of London. This is very similar to AV but limits voters to just two preferences to guard against the risk of a candidate being elected as Mayor without having secured a substantial number of first preference votes. I believe that these arrangements have generally worked well.
The Alternative Vote Referendum will take place on May 5th 2011. Greenwich.co.uk will soon have an article putting the case for the No campaign.