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Nicholas Tyrone: Our voting system for the European elections is undemocratic – and anti-Tory. It's time to change it.

Nick Tyrone has worked for the Electoral Reform Society for eighteen months, working across all political parties handling public affairs, parliamentary liaison and press for the ERS. Follow Nick on Twitter.

Screen shot 2013-07-29 at 19.35.27The LSE and the Electoral Reform Society have commissioned a YouGov poll on the next European elections, due to take place in 2014. At a sample size of 8000, it is one of the largest polls conducted on Europe in Britain this year.

What was discovered is that as things stand now, under the current closed list PR system used for European elections in the UK, Labour will win with 30 per cent of the vote, UKIP will come second with 25 per cent, the Conservatives will gain 23 per cent, the Greens 12, and the Liberal Democrats 10 (note the Liberal Democrats in fifth). What was discovered of note was that if you changed the voting system to open list, or indeed anything candidate based as a form of voting, UKIP went down six points and the Tories up five – meaning the Conservatives would then leapfrog UKIP into second, just barely behind Labour.

This builds on previous research into Eurosceptic voting patterns, particularly the relationship of this block of voters to UKIP and the Conservative party. It seems that a significant number of people are happy to vote for UKIP as an entity, but when it comes to voting for an individual lots of them would prefer to vote Conservative. The numbers on this are stark.


Looking at those in the sample who identified themselves as “Eurosceptic”, when voting under a closed list the breakdown was UKIP 57 per cent, Conservatives 23 per cent, Labour 13 per cent, Greens four per cent and Lib Dems four per cent. Under a candidate based voting system, this becomes UKIP 41 per cent, Conservatives 31 per cent, Labour 19 per cent, Greens 5 per cent, Lib Dems 5 per cent. This equates to a 24 point swing from UKIP to the Conservatives within the self-identified Eurosceptic group.  

Although time is becoming tight, it is not too late for the government to change the voting system in time for the 2014 European elections. And before you all jump ahead and say, “Why not First Past the Post?” – every country in the EU is allowed to pick from a list of voting systems to choose their EU parliament representatives, and First the Past Post is not amongst them.

So the next best thing would be open list or STV (single transferable vote), which are better for democracy as they are candidate-based as opposed to party-based and, as the research demonstrates, better for the Conservative Party.

There is history here as well. Some of you may recall that it was Tony Blair who introduced closed lists to the UK in 1999, and that he had to use the Parliament Act to get it passed. The then Tory dominated House of Lords refused to countenance the system, arguing that it was undemocratic and oligarchic. Blair even used this episode as an example of why his “recalibration” of the Upper House was necessary. So this is one of those grand issues where Conservative self-interest and doing the right thing for democracy, and for the country, coincide. I, for one, hope it really isn’t too late to change.


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