May 11, 2015

Horse 1893 - British Parliament? Let Me Fix That For You

I am something of an election fan. I like watching election night coverage in our country. I like watching graphics and swingometers. I like the tension as counting happens and seats are declared. Heck, I even like the bit at the end of the Eurovision Song Contest after all the rubbishy songs are finished and the real point of the event happens - when everyone votes for their friends.
So you'd expect that with the United Kingdom's General Election which was held last week, that I'd be all over it like a donkey on a waffle. Well, no. I think that there's both simultaneously too much election and not enough election in the UK.

There are about 64 million people in the UK. In the UK Parliament, there are 650 sitting members in the House of Commons. That's roughly 1 MP for every 98,460 people. In the Australian parliament, there are 150  sitting members in the House of Representatives, or  1 MP for every 153,333 people.
Either the UK is over-represented or Australia is under-represented by members of parliament; I tend to think the former rather than the latter.

On top of this, there are 779 members (plus 50 who don't sit for various reasons) in the House of Lords. That's roughly 1 Lord for every 82,156 people. In the Australian Senate, there are just 76 Senators who represent on average 302,631 people. In the upper house I think that the UK is way way  over-represented; on top of that, the members of the House of Lords aren't even elected.
Admittedly the member of the House of Lords derive no annual salary for their efforts but even so, they still vote on legislation which affects the lives of real people.

If the sheer number of MPs is daunting, then the method of voting used to install them in the House of Commons is maddening (and the method used to install them in the House of Lords is undemocratic). The UK uses the first past the post method of voting which at first glance seems fair enough, the one with the most votes wins, but in any more than a three way contest, it is entirely possible for the winning candidate to win less than half the votes. In a seat where Alice gets 31%, Bradley gets 34% and Clyde gets 35%, if Alice and Bradley are similar in political stance and Clyde is vastly different, and voters for Alice and Bradley would rather have stuck their heads into a bucket of slime than voted for Clyde, then Clyde is still installed as MP despite almost two thirds of the electorate preferring to have stuck their heads into a bucket of slime than voted for him.
In races across the UK, where you had as many as seven candidates, its easy to see how unpopular candidates might be installed nationwide and be so numerous as to be able to form government.

Across the UK, the number of MPs that were elected were thus:
Con - 331
Lab - 232
SNP - 56
LD - 8
DUP - 8
Others - 15

The percentage of the popular vote across the UK fell thusly:
Con - 36.9%
Lab - 30.4%
SNP - 4.7%
LD - 7.9%

In addition to this, UKIP claimed a nationwide vote of 19.0% and yet had zero MPs returned to parliament. On the face of it, the Conservatives with 36.9% of the vote but 50.9% of the seats are over represented, as is Labour with 30.4% of the vote but 35.6% of the seats and the Lib-Dems with 7.9% of the vote ended up with just 1.2% of the seats.

If you adjust the number of MPs to reflect the nationwide percentages then the number of MPs returned would have read:
Con - 240
Lab - 197
SNP - 30
LD - 51

There's a problem in that as well though. In Scotland, the SNP won virtually every seat with a majority of votes in those seats. This shows that nationwide voting trends do not translate easily to the constituent countries of the UK. Northern Ireland for instance, usually returns Democratic Unionists and Sinn Fein members, whose parties don't even field candidates in England, Scotland or Wales.
There's another problem. Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland have devolved parliaments which decide and legislate for their respective countries but England has no devolved parliament of its own. Irish, Welsh and Scottish MPs can vote on legislation that concerns England but not necessarily the other way round.

If I was Grand Poobah and Lord High Everything Else, I'd set up the UK and its decidedly bizarre parliament differently and make it more like Australia. When the framers of the Australian Constitution looked at what might work in Australia, they liked that the cabinet of the UK sat in and was answerable to parliament and they liked the idea that the various states should have equal power in the house of review to prevent bullying by larger states. Now admittedly there is a vast disparity between the populations of the constituent countries of the UK, with England being vastly more populace than the other three combined but there already exists a metric which I think would be useful to break up both the Lords and the Commons.
When sending members to the European Parliament, England is broken into the nine regions of: North West, North East, Yorkshire and Humberside, West Midlands, East Midlands, East of England, London, South West and South East. That is 9 regions in England and to provide balance, I'd install 2 regions from Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland. If there were 14 Lords sent from each of the 15 regions, then that gives you 210 in all; instead of more than 700. In addition to this, I'd have the Lords democratically elected which itself is a novel idea and then I'd have it decided on the basis of proportional representation.

I'd then shrink the size of the House of Commons from 650 to 420 (remember the number 230 - being the number of MPs left over) and have each of those seats decided by the preferential voting like we do in Australia because I think that in more than 90 years of use, it has proven itself to be excellent.

If the same sorts of proportions were applied to a 420 seat House of Commons, then the numbers would have fallen thusly:
Con - 214
Lab - 148
SNP - 35
LD - 5
DUP - 5
Others - 10

I don't know how a House of Commons elected by preferential voting would sort itself out but Duverger's law suggests that even with preferential voting in single member constituencies, it still tends towards two party politics.

This still leaves the unresolved issue of England still not having its own devolved parliament. Those 230 MPs which I told you to remember earlier, are the perfect size of august body to decide upon English laws for England.

So there you go, I've solved the United Kingdom. I've done so with the same number of MPs, solved the problem of the undemocratic House of Lords and the problem of first past the post voting. Unfortunately, I am also a raving loony who will never be Grand Poobah or Lord High Everything Else. The UK will just have to live with its system of a House of Common decided by unrepresentative means, an undemocratic and unelected House of Lords and an undevolved English parliament.

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