By ignoring reform of the House of Lords, George Brown’s recent announcement of a referendum on replacing the first past the post system for the House of Commons does not go far enough.
Whilst I personally believe that there should continue to be a strong link between constituencies and their MP, voters need to be appropriately represented in parliament.
Brown’s proposed Alternative Vote has some strong merits. In Angus, Mike Weir MP was elected with only 33.7% of the vote, so twice as many voters voted against him than for him. Alternative Vote ensures that MPs will have the backing of a majority of their constituency. It will also end tactical voting, by allowing people to vote for the candidate they really want, and not have to worry about blocking a candidate they do not want.
However, this still means that many Angus residents will be represented by someone who was not their first choice. This is the reason that the Liberal Democrats support a Single Transferable Vote in multi member constituencies. To translate that jargon into English, the Lib Dems propose have larger constituencies where there are several MPs and they are voted for in a fully proportional way. STV, like AV means that you vote for the candidates in order of preference.
In Angus, the Council elections already work this way. For parties which have at least some minimum level of support, this means that local people will have at least one representative from the party they voted for. So, for example, in Kirriemuir & Dean, there are 3 councillors, one Liberal Democrat, Alison Andrews and one SNP and one Conservative. This way local people can be comfortable when raising and issue with their local councillor, that they can speak to someone who was their first choice to represent them.
What then of a strong link between an MP and their constituencies? On the one hand, multi member constituencies will still have that link, only the constituency will be larger.
However I personally feel that with a combination of reforming the House of Lords and the House of Commons in a co-ordinated, joined up manner, we can get the best of both worlds. Between the two Houses we can have both single constituency MPs elected by AV, multi member constituencies voted by STV and if necessary, some national or at least regional proportionality.
That is why the House of Lords must be reformed along with the House of Commons. It is incredible that after 13 years and 3 Labour Governments we still have an unelected House of Lords. Few would have believed that was possible back in 1997.
I would also strongly support standardisation of the voting method for UK, Scottish, European and Local elections, so that in all elections, you vote for candidates by order of preference. This will avoid the considerable confusion we currently have of separate voting systems for different elections, sometimes held on the same day. If some proportional element is required, using the top up system used in the Scottish Parliament will be ideal. Personally I am not a fan of voting for a party and feel that voters should always be given the opportunity to vote for an individual to represent them.