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Electoral Reform

Updated: 13 May 2010

May 2010: Given the increased interest in this topic, we have added (at the bottom of the page) some useful standard notes from the Commons Library...but we haven't - yet - changed the text of this guide below which was written in July 2009. Actually, it provides an interesting historical context for the current debate!

Added: 3 July 2009

We should be prepared to propose change only if there is a broad consensus in the country that it would strengthen our democracy and our politics by improving the effectiveness and legitimacy of both Government and Parliament and by enhancing the level and quality of representation and public engagement.

Gordon Brown – ‘Constitutional Renewal' - statement to the House, June 10th 2009

Here at W4MP, we've spent the last month or two doing our very best to keep up with the rollercoaster of MPs' expense claim stories.  As June drew to a close and the expenses were finally published, we've had time to sit back, enjoy the heatwave and start taking a long hard look at what the events of the past few months actually means for British politics. There seems to be broad consensus among all parties that fundamental reform is needed, but exactly what that should entail is up for discussion.  Five major constitutional issues have been flagged up by the Prime Minister: House of Lords Reform, the possibility of a written constitution, the prospect of further devolution and greater power for local government, improving voter turnout and, finally, the tricky issue of electoral reform - loved by some and loathed by others.

Writing in The Times in May, Alan Johnson indicated that the government's response to the public mood must be 'a determination to ensure that the public can participate in a root-and-branch examination of our political system'. For the now-Home Secretary, electoral reform should be a central part of the response, and he gives an example of offering voters a choice between sticking with the current system of First Past the Post, or embracing Alternative Vote Plus, where votes are cast for both a constituency representative and a political party. The Lib Dems are proportional representation's number one fans, with Nick Clegg recently advocating a Single Transferable Vote system as used in Ireland.  The Conservatives remain staunchly opposed to PR of any type, concerned it will result in weak governments and in fact divert power away from the public.

As the Prime Minister mentioned in his June statement, reform of the system is considered so significant that any proposed change would almost certainly need such a referendum. Commentators claim that this could be done at a General Election, when voters would be asked not only who they wish to represent them, but how they wish the entire system to work in future. Although here at W4MP we're giving ourselves a headache figuring out what voting system a referendum would use...

Useful guides

For more information on the different voting systems and which countries use them, take a look at the online guides below:

Government views (Note May 2010: yes, we realise roles have been swapped!)

Opposition Insights (Note May 2010: yes, we realise roles have been swapped!)

House of Commons Library Standard Notes (added May 2010)

CD July 2009


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