I was thinking about Chris Bertram’s post on tactical voting at CT and I was struck by the thought: Why hasn’t Labour introduced preferential (single transferable) voting in Britain? Readers will probably be struck by the alternative question, Why should Labour introduce preferential (single transferable) voting in Britain?
My first is that this would be an improvement in democracy, both for individual constituencies and for the country as a whole. Although no voting system is perfect, preferential voting is much more likely to produce an outcome that reflects the views of the majority of voters than is first-past-the-post.
I don’t suppose that an argument like this will cut much ice with the Blair government (or most incumbent governments), so let me move to the second point. Labour would almost certainly benefit from this shift, at the expense of the Tories. It seems pretty clear that Labour would get the bulk of LDP preferences, as well as those of the Greens and minor left parties. The Tories would pick up preferences from UKIP (but this group looks like a flash in the pan) and the far-right (but this is a small group, and there are disadvantages attached to such preferences, especially if, say, the BNP demands preferences in return).
It’s true of course that the biggest benefits would go to the Liberal Democrats, since their supporters would not have to worry about ‘wasted votes’. But even here, there’s a hidden benefit for Labour. Sooner or later, there will be a hung Parliament, and the price of LDP support will be full-scale proportional representation. If Labour introduced preferential voting without being forced to, it would not only cement LDP support but would greatly weaken the case for PR.
The remaining objection is that of additional complexity. This can be overcome, in large measure by adopting the optional preferential system, where voters can indicate as many or as few preferences as they choose.