Daniel Kawczynski MP: Elections demonstrated PR's flaws
As a founder of the All Party First Past the Post Group I have spent the last few days analysing the recent mayoral and Greater London Assembly election results, mindful of the different voting systems used.
Having voted on the 1st May you will have seen the confusion at the ballot box as voters were faced with three ballot papers, each offering a separate voting system. We saw the problems a similarly confusing system brought at the elections in Scotland last May. The recommendations made from the Gould Report made it clear that we need to be careful, especially when conducting a number of elections at the same time.
The first past the post vote for the local GLA candidate was the most straightforward, with people voting for a known, and more importantly, accountable, figure. The public, through the campaigning literature, were able to see what local candidates thought of local issues. It is significant that hard working Conservative candidates did well in this vote. Where the GLA loses much of its credibility is in the so called ‘top-up’ seats which rob us of our deserved majority on the Assembly.
By breaking the constituency link, these top-up seats, using the proportional system, lead to the election of unaccountable people who, whilst getting the same salary, benefits and political influence as other members, have no direct responsibility to any specific part, or group of people, within London. This means that the BNP Assembly Member only has to represent the views of the minority of people who voted for him, rather than having to abandon the extreme principles of his Party and speak out for a larger section of society. Another anomaly occurs when a sitting GLA member stands down. If the member was elected under the PR system he would be replaced by another of his Party, however, if he is a constituency Member then there is a need for a by-election.
The overwhelming will of the people of London was to get rid of Ken Livingstone and elect a Conservative mayor. By complicating the system with optional second preferences, this was nearly jeopardised. The fact that Brian Paddick, Sian Berry and Ken Livingstone did well on second preferences only goes to show the bias which is built into the system in favour of left wing parties, parties which, in the case of the Lib Dems and the Greens were not well supported by people’s first choice.
David Cameron is well aware of all the problems of proportional representation, which is why he ruled it out for General Elections in your speech at the Power Inquiry Conference in 2006, but I would like to see the Party now commit to abolishing PR for both the GLA and European elections. When I have spoken to my constituents, I have found that not even one in one hundred can tell me who Nina Gill is, she is the ‘local’ Labour MEP. This lack of knowledge is not just a result of political disengagement, and is not a problem unique to the West Midlands. Because the historic and familiar link between community and representative has been broken, there is little spur to engage in the process and as there is no real accountability, many MEPs make little effort to engage with those who voted for them. With a lack of engagement comes greater distance between constituent and member, this breaking the link further, causing an endless spiral of reduced accountability
By pledging to scrap PR and Alternative Voting for the London and EU elections we will be sending a clear signal of our support for FPTP as the voting system of choice to increase voter engagement, reconnect communities to their representatives and restore real accountability.