The realist case for electoral reform
Via Senator Andrew Bartlett, I see that The Independent is campaigning for electoral reform in the UK, following Labour’s re-election with only 36 per cent of the vote.
Leading opponents within the government are named as John Prescott and Ian McCartney and the story also mentions that
Many union leaders also fear it will lead to coalition government with the Liberal Democrats, and prevent Labour from governing again with an absolute majority.
I imagine that the opponents regard themselves as hardheaded realists, but it would be more accurate to view them as reckless gamblers.
Given the outcome this time, and the likelihood of an economic downturn sometime in the next five years, the chance that Labour will secure an absolute majority next time can’t be better than even money.
There’s a possibility that Labour will be forced into coalition with the Lib Dems despite the benefits of first-past-the-post voting, and in this case they’ll have to accept whatever reform package their coalition partners demand. On the other hand, if they act now, Labour can choose the kind of reform they want.
Even more significant, from the viewpoint of union leaders, is (or ought to be) the possibility of another Tory government elected with less than 40 per cent of the vote. A coalition with the Lib Dems might be mildly inconvenient, but not much worse than Blair has been. By contrast, the Tories, given a couple of terms, could easily finish the job they started under Thatcher.
I haven’t looked carefully at the numbers, but I’d guess the best reform for Labour is optional preferential voting. That makes it easy for Labour voters (since, in most constituencies, they can vote for Labour alone as in the past), while most Lib Dem voters would probably give Labour their second preference.
The Tories would get the benefit of preferences from BNP, UKIP and Veritas voters. But this is something of a double-edged sword, as parties like this are prone to demand embarrassing concessions in return for their support.
On the plausible assumption that Labour would get 70 per cent of Lib Dem and Welsh/Scottish nationalist preferences, and the Tories would get 70 per cent of the rest, I estimate a two-party preferred Labour vote of about 57 per cent.
The Tories would need a swing of more than 7 per cent to win because, contrary to the simple calculation above, the Lib Dems would win in some seats and would presumably join Labour in coalition.
The Labour apparatchiks who want to stick with FPP have either failed to do the math or are willing to pass up certain victory just to improve their chances of avoiding coalition. Either way, they are anything but hardheaded realists.