Electoral Reform

To do with polling rather than opinion polling, but here’s the meat from Nick Clegg’s statement since most of it has provoked lots of comment here before now.

On fixed term Parliaments. Parliament will have a 5 year fixed term. Votes of confidence will be given a statutory basis, and still need a simple majority in the house. An early election would need a supermajority of 66%. The release valve to prevent a sitution where the PM loses a vote of confidence, there is no alternative PM with a majority, and no one has enough votes to dissolve Parliament is if a PM resigns and no one can form a government for 14 days, Parliament is automatically dissolved.

This leaves one interesting point unanswered – who is PM during that time? Traditionally the British constitution has abhored a vacuum, and the Palace has always endeavoured to have a gap of about half an hour between PMs. Would the PM who had “resigned” be expected to remain as caretaker? Would a caretaker be appointed? Given this is to be given a statutory footing, unlike past arrangements, it’ll likely need to be addressed.

On AV, the referendum will, as expected, be on 5th May 2011. The question will be along the lines of “Do you want to adopt AV, yes or no” – approved, naturally, by the Electoral Commission.

Finally, on the boundary review the number of MPs will be reduced to 600, not the 585 in the Conservative manifesto. Seats will be equal in size to within 5%, with three exceptions. Firstly the Western Isles, secondly Orkney and Shetland (as at present) and thirdly, a geographical cap on the maximum size of a seat, which will be capped at the size of the largest current seat. I think this is Ross, Skye and Lochaber with a size of 1277947 hectares – in practice very few other seats come close to that size, so it will probably only come into play in the Scottish highlands.

The boundary review itself will be completed by 2013, to come into use in 2015, and the legislation will contain measures to ensure that (presumably thinning down the process somewhat), and the commission given resources to deliver it (presumably allowing them to do more than 3 counties at once).

UPDATE: In answer to a question on whether the boundary commission will respect county boundaries Nick Clegg has confirmed that equal size will take precedent over all other considerations (apart from his three exceptions), the implication being that county boundaries (and perhaps even ward boundaries – we shall see) would be crossed.

UPDATE2: On the electorates at the 2010 election the quota for new seats should be about 76,000. The actual boundary review though will use the electoral registers from December 2010.


80 Responses to “Electoral Reform”

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  1. @Lazlo
    Think you have strayed from the realm of practical politics here – Tories lead a rainbow coalition! I think that going to bed with Labour is at least as likely as that!
    I suspect though that barring force majeure the coalition will last the full term.

  2. @Amber,

    “Labour – 100 years of struggle against the ruling elites & you think we’ll be finished off by a few tweaks to the boundaries? 8-)”

    If we get a ‘yes’ vote for AV (and it benefits Labour more than the Tories, which isn’t a given IMO), and the boundary changes (and reduction in MPs) are not as beneficial to the Tories as they might be, then it might not be so bad for Labour IMO.

    It’s all theory at the moment – even if the Tories will currently be a lot more comfortable with these changes than Labour. I’d still strongly expect some benefit for the Tories (in theory and practice), if I’m being totally honest, but it may not be as much as many people are suggesting. Let’s just wait and see.

  3. I’m afraid I still don’t understand, can someone explain the whole dissolution/66%/14 days in layman’s terms please?

  4. @Johnty

    Tories lead a rainbow coalition!
    ______________________________________

    As you say beyond the realms of reality.

    If push come to shove they will rule as a minority till they can to the country.

  5. @ Johnty

    Bits of the ruins of the LibDems (in such a situation) and some support from NI is a kind of rainbow.

    It could also be support of individual MPs. The Conservatives got very close to absolute majority in terms of seats.

  6. I think Labour’s best chance of at least partially compensating for any boundary changes (and reduction in MPs by 50) is by winning the AV vote. I know it’s not a given that it will benefit them more than the Tories, but I personally think it’s likely given the larger centre-left Lib/Other vote.

  7. @ Laszlo

    Ref rainbow/tory govt.

    I see what you mean now.

    Some LD defections to the Cons

    The Nationalists in NI.

    Yes it could work, though IMO it is far more likely they would rule as a minority, giving away no Ministries, whilst relying on the support of the above in confidence votes.

  8. @Laszlo
    Of course there is a possibility of a Con/Orange Book Liberal/Unionist Government – with or without a 66% rule. What the 66% rule does is prevent Cameron from dissolving Parliament before giving someone else the chance to form a Government. Don’t think it is quite the Tory plot you see it as.

  9. @John Fletcher
    I think you underestimate how much those on the Liberal wing of the Tory party like having Clegg et al on board – as a counterweight to the right wing – without them they might struggle to retain the centre ground.

  10. @ Matt

    I think Labour’s best chance of at least partially compensating for any boundary changes (and reduction in MPs by 50) is by winning the AV vote.
    ———————————————–
    Labour do not appear to be viewing it from this perspective. Tories have named their anti-AV team but the Dems have yet to name their pro-AV team.

    The Dems want to hold back – they are hoping Labour will go for the pro-AV slot. This turns the campaign into a typical Lab V Con battle that the Dems are comfortable with.

    Many in the Labour Party believe the Dems should stop hoping Labour will do the heavy lifting & put up a pro-AV Dem team. Thus far, the silence of the Dems is deafening. 8-)

  11. Fixed term parliaments are not so great.

    You can end up with a hopelessly divided and completely ineffectual government running a country in a chaotic fashion for a few months or even a few years.

    When the time is up, it’s time to go. And what you really need is legislation to make it easier to get rid of a government which is still in power but obviously finished.

    Two examples being: Major (Conservative) and Brown (Labour). The country could not get rid of either and wanted to see the back of both. Instead both hung on until the bitter end and dragged the country down.

  12. @ Johnty

    I think the 66% has a important underlining role, engraving in the minds that they sould seek agreement, maintaining the status quo.

    To some degree it’s like a party conference. You don’t really have to organise whom should be striked out, but you have to organise whose name they have to put in.

  13. @Amber,

    “Labour do not appear to be viewing it from this perspective. Tories have named their anti-AV team but the Dems have yet to name their pro-AV team.

    The Dems want to hold back – they are hoping Labour will go for the pro-AV slot. This turns the campaign into a typical Lab V Con battle that the Dems are comfortable with.

    Many in the Labour Party believe the Dems should stop hoping Labour will do the heavy lifting & put up a pro-AV Dem team. Thus far, the silence of the Dems is deafening. 8-)”

    Yes, very true.

    I think the outcome of the AV vote is still very much up for grabs. I think if the public were to vote ‘yes’, I could see it benefitting the Labour party at least to some extent, in all probability.

    I think the next few years, including the results of the referendum and the changes to the boundaries (and number of MPs), really could affect the outcome and result of the next GE.

  14. AW’s latest summary is very interesting though (see new thread). It seems that it might not be bad for the Tories after all. I guess it’s impossible to say.

  15. It certainly makes my earlier assumptions that AV will benefit Labour seem dated. Perhaps this is since many of the previously floating Lib voters have already defected to Labour, so the 15%/16% that are left tend to be proportionally more centre-right?

  16. So…..

    We reduced the number of MPs except Scottish Liberal ones

    that does not seem very fair….

    They could have amalgamted the islands or doubled them up

    Why should geographical considerations take precedence here but not in Derry or Belfast?

    Nick Clegg this is not a new kind of politics it is very shoddy…

    Those islands should have been the first to lose their seats…

    there are islands up there with less voters than a MacDonalds drive thru…

  17. Orkney for example

    Alistair Carmichael Liberal Democrat 11989
    Mark Cooper Labour 2061
    John Mowat SNP 2042
    Frank Nairn Conservative 2032
    Robert Smith UKIP 1222

    I probably have more lice than that

  18. Eoin,

    There is no such thing as ‘new politics’. There never was, and never will be (by any party). I, for one, was never naive enough to fall for it.

    As for the changes, I think the equalisation of boundary sizes seems fair. The problem is that they hadn’t been updated sufficiently to take into account the changing (constituency) populations. I can’t possibly comment on where the number of MPs should be reduced, but 650 is too many IMO.

    I’m dead against AV. You either want a candidate elected or you don’t IMO. FPTP, though flawed, is the best system available IMO.

  19. Interesting analysis by YG on effect of AV not as anti Tory as you would think.
    h ttp://www.channel4.com/news/articles/politics/domestic_politics/exclusive+poll+what+difference+would+av+make/3700617

  20. @Richard,

    Great news for the Tories, especially if the Lib vote stays low.

  21. @Amber,

    “Labour – 100 years of struggle against the ruling elites & you think we’ll be finished off by a few tweaks to the boundaries? 8-)”

    sorry but i thought you were the ruling elites(at least sometimes)

  22. Richard,

    All politicians, of all parties, are the ‘ruling elites’. ‘The people’ are their slaves. 8-)

  23. Said like a true cynic, I know.

  24. As a long term follower but not contributor to this site I have been surprised at the confucion creation by the 66%

    Surely the point of the 66% is that the (Tory) Prime minister of a coalition Government could not cut the floor out from under their (Lib Dem) partners feet by ambushing them with a snap election.

    The Coalition Government commanding jointly 66%, could of course call an early election whenever both Partners agree.

    If only one of the coalitionpartners want an early election either partner could (but in practice only the Lib Dems would be able ) force an election by combing with Labour on a vote of no confidence and then refusing to support any other Government, so triggering the 14 day rule.

    Of course this would fail if under whatever unforeseen circumstances Lab and Con combined to form a new government.

  25. OK so my maths is wrong the coaltion does not have 66% but the rest of my post applies

  26. the referendum has just been announced and already the no campaign have leaders. how very typically tory, how very top down

    labour, another top down party thinks the libdems should have already chosen the leaders of the yes campaign. can we really be so presumptuous when there are many others that also have an interest in this

    the only possible reason that labour would support AV is if they were quite sure that AV would kill any chance of PR. labour like the present system very much, we libdemers have learnt that labours claims to share our values are just nonsense, at least the tories don’t usually make that pretence

  27. Anthony

    Crossing ward boundaries is inevitable. If you think about it; with your quota of 76262 the margin of error is only 7626 – 10% ie 5% on either side of the quota.

    But in most urban areas, ward size is bigger than this. And by urban I mean places such as Southend or Basildon, never mind London and the Met Boroughs all of which will be affected.

    Because the Local Government Boundary Commission does its best to even out ward sizes, there’s often no great variation in size. Nor should there be, that’s what we’re aiming for at constituency level after all. But that means that when you transfer a ward to an under-quota constituency you will immediately put it over quota. There may be no adjacent wards small enough.

    With smaller towns you might get away with tacking on smaller county wards – though splitting up towns and tacking on rural wards will look awfully like gerrymandering. But it won’t work in the larger conurbations -you’ll have to split wards.

    Even where you do strike lucky, population change will mean that by the next of the more frequent boundary changes you’ll be out of skew again.

  28. Has nobody else noticed that they have effectively abandoned fixed term Parliaments? Now, all they need to do is have a ‘constructive vote of no-confidence’ and 14 days later Parliament will be dissolved.

    I think it is time to pencil in a General Election for a year’s time.

  29. According to the ONS, the UK electorate in December 2009 was 46,455,890 – divide that by 600 and you get about 77,500 – not 76,000 as you suggest or 75,000 as Clegg told the Commons.

    How come the difference?

  30. Ben,

    Fixed term parliaments have not been abandoned – the 66% rule sees to that. By raising the figure from 55% to 66% it would be very difficult for any government to call a snap election to suit itself.

    The 14 day rule is a sensible safety valve in the event of an impasse. But remember that this is only likely when no one party or coalition has a majority.

    The idea that any party in government would allow a motion of no-confidence to pass, then stall the formation of a new government, just so an early election can be caled, is theoretically possible but utterly implausible.

    A constitutional crisis is not how any sane politician would want to start an election campaign, and no party would want to be seen as having been the cause of that crisis.

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