The answer is STV in multi-member constituencies

Thursday, 30th June

PR Fairness Cartoon_john sadler

Illustration by John Sadler 

• “COME up with one realistic system” was the challenge made by Martin Plaut in his June 23 letter to proponents of PR, proportional representation.

I am happy to oblige, and the system I propose is the STV, single transferable vote, in multi-member constituencies, as used in the Republic of Ireland in parliamentary elections for many years.

Each voter would have one vote, and the vote would be transferable according to the preferences listed by the voter. The ballot paper would have space for as many preferences as there were candidates.

The more preferences the voters list the greater the chance that their votes would elect a candidate and not be wasted. But the ballot paper would be valid if just the first preference was shown.

To ensure that candidates are elected in proportion to the votes cast, constituencies must have multiple members, and the greater the number of members (at least three), the more the result would be proportional to the votes.

Let’s take Camden & Islington as such a constituency, returning four members. In the 2019 general election these two boroughs returned Tulip Siddiq, Sir Keir Starmer, Jeremy Corbyn and Emily Thornberry, all Labour.

A total of 215,792 votes were cast, the four Labour candidates amassing 126,221. The other 89,571 votes were wasted. Yes, over 41 per cent were wasted!

Let’s imagine an STV election in the constituency, where the parties (Labour, Tory, Lib Dem and Green) all put up four candidates. The ballot paper would have 16 candidates.

Party stalwarts could not give their first preference to all four of their candidates, they would have choose how to order them.

The parties would continue to compete with each other, but now members of the same party would have to compete with each other.

Power would be transferred from the party machines and whips to the voters. Candidates “parachuted in” might not be popular.

Candidates would be encouraged to be more independent minded. This is what happened in Ireland, and would be a welcome development in the UK.

So the STV system in multi-member constituencies would reduce the number of wasted votes, achieve better proportional representation, encourage independent minded candidates, and transfer power from party machines to the voters.

What’s not to like? Greater detail on the workings of the system can be had from the Electoral Reform Society.


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