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Is Gordon planning to end “first past the post” voting?

January 15th, 2007


    Who would gain and who would lose if the voting system was changed?

There is said to be information coming out of the Brown camp that one of first acts he is considering as Prime Minister will be to abolish first-past-the-post for Westminster seats and replace it with the alternative vote system of proportional representation.

Under this voters rank the candidates in order of preference. If no candidate in a constituency gets more than half the votes cast, the one who has fewest first preference votes has his or her votes reallocated, according to voters’ second preferences. This process continues until one candidate has more than half.

The great argument in favour of this approach is that it keeps the constituency link – unlike the system that is used for election UK MEPs where everything operates on a regional list.

    From the Brown perspective such a move would immediately build bridges with the Liberal Democrats and could arguably make it very hard for the Tories ever to win power again.

There’s little doubt that the Brown team has been working on a series of eye-catching initiatives along the lines of the devolving of interest rate policy to the Bank of England that Gordon introduced within days of arrive at Number 11 in 1997.

All of this is being designed to break the link with the past and the Blair years thus blunting the “it’s time for change” sentiment that’s almost inevitable when one party has been in power for so long.

So what would be the impact of such a change? This was looked at by the Commission under Roy Jenkins set up by Tony Blair after the 1997 General Election. This found that of all the options for changing the voting system the Alternative Vote – or AV as it is known – would be the one that would, at the 1997 General Election, have produced the most favourable result for Labour. A majority of 231 was projected.

Whether a similar benefit to Brown’s party would emerge in today’s environment when Labour is nothing like as popular is hard to predict but it is nothing like as certain that Labour would be the main beneficiary.

Given that ultimately through their choices with AV voters in LAB>CON marginals would have to choose between the two parties a good indicator might be YouGov’s monthly“would you prefer to see after the next election, a Conservative Government led by Cameron or a Labour Government led by Brown” question. In December this produced a split of Conservative 45% to Labour’s 32%. In February 2006 Labour enjoyed a 9% lead.

Another piece of recent polling evidence comes from last month’s ICM survey for the Guardian which asked “Which of these parties might you consider switching your vote to at the next election, please choose as many or as few as you like?”. This was the outcome: CON 17%: LAB 16%: LD 26%: UKIP 10%: GR 19%: BNP 7%: OTH 13%.

If I was David Cameron I would support such a proposal. It would certainly add a lot of excitement to those like me who have won and lost a lot of money spread betting in the Commons seats markets.

Mike Smithson






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