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Andrew Boff: Our electoral system is broke - fix it

Boff Andrew Andrew Boff is a Conservative member of the London Assembly.

OK. I get it. We're the Conservative party. We think our title is an adjective rather than just a noun. So when a change is proposed to the voting system our instinct is to oppose unless there is a very good reason for changing it.

Apparently, changing FPTP isn't convincing even though it:

  • sends 440 of the 650 MPs to Parliament without the majority support of their electorates;
  • worked well when the two main parties had over 90% of the vote but falters now that there are many more;
  • means that the outcome of an election in a constituency can depend upon how many candidates choose to stand;
  • gives the best chance for the BNP, or other extremist parties, securing a foothold in Parliament on a minority vote.

But the system is packed with history and tradition and we in our party love all that. Traditions like:

  • The Woolas manouvere - Appealing to the extremes in order to attract the protest votes of the disenchanted. Under AV there's little advantage in doing this - once the extremists have been knocked out the voters can turn their protest votes into responsible votes.
  • The John Browne memorial spoiler (otherwise known as the 1997 Winchester wind-up) – So you get thrown out by the party then stand at the next election as an aggrieved independent taking just enough votes to hand the seat to the opposition. Tastes as sweet as sour grapes.
  • The Galloway Gambit – Embark on a divisive campaign which attracts the votes of a minority in the constituency even though the divided majority think you're a self publicising opportunist.

I would have more sympathy with FPTP if we ever – and I mean ever – used it for internal party elections.

As routine, in our party we use some kind of short-listing for almost every elected position when there are more than two candidates. We expect successful candidates to have a majority support amongst the membership, not just a plurality, even if this means that the candidate who was second in the first round of voting ends up being selected. I'm guessing (and please correct me if I'm wrong) that there is not a single Tory MP who has been selected using pure, unfiltered, FPTP.

We do this because party members want to see candidates that represent majority consent. So why is it that we don't respect the electorate enough to give them the same benefits?

I cannot, for the life of me, understand why, when given the choice between a two-candidate election system and one that's designed to filter out less popular choices, that we should opt for the clapped out, unfit-for-purpose system that is FPTP.

I'm also guessing that our 'No' supporters don't really support the principle of choice through plurality.

Are they suggesting that an unfiltered list of candidates for the next by-election, for example, should be presented to the members of that constituency party on an FPTP basis without an exhaustive ballot or some kind of short-listing process?

Would they want to see a full list of leadership candidates presented to the membership and a leader selected on the basis of a simple plurality?

No, of course not. Though David Davis might.

Every internal election in which I have taken part in my 37 years of membership we short-list, we rank or we have exhaustive ballots. I cannot remember a single occasion where we presented a full list of candidates and voted on an FPTP basis. Why? Because to do so would be unfair; not unfair to the candidate but unfair to the electorate. Yet this is exactly what a 'No' vote would achieve. It would legitimise an hypocrisy.

AV provides for that short-listing, that exhaustive balloting, on one election day. In France they do it in two elections. For the Party leadership we have two elections with different constituencies but it all amounts to the same: reducing the number of choices down to two which can then reveal majority support.

The 'No' campaign compares AV to other systems of election but not FPTP. They know that FPTP is like tossing a coin on three possible choices - it doesn't work unless you do it more than once.

An increasing number of Tories will vote tactically to keep out their least favoured candidate. Some Conservatives believe this is close to heresy. I prefer to think of it as being close to reality. I know an ex-Tory MP who routinely votes LibDem in elections because he judges this the best way to keep the Labour Party out. I've lost track of the number of “Can't win here” graphs that I've put into election literature to encourage people to vote tactically. A tactical voter has to guess what her/his neighbours are doing and rarely vote for the party they really want. I want 3rd place Conservatives in Islington to be confidently vote Conservative AND help to keep out their least favoured option. I think it would reveal that they aren't third place after all.

This is probably our last chance for decades to change this rotten, unfit-for-purpose, clapped out system. And that's why I'm voting for AV. What's not to like?

> The website of Conservatives say Yes to AV.


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