The Futility Monster

He'll pointlessly derive more enjoyment out of your resources than you

Posts Tagged ‘electoral systems’

The Biggest Irony Of Election Night

Posted by The Futility Monster on May 6, 2011 @ 09:06

A very misleading photo of some guy

One quick thought for you.

Labour, in Scotland, suffered a “shellacking” at the hands of the SNP.

That defeat was magnified to a very large extent by none other than the First Past The Post electoral system.

You know, that system most of them came out and backed.

But wait!

Scotland doesn’t have just FPTP. It has the joyous Additional Member System, allowing additional MPs to be distributed in accordance with the PROPORTIONAL preference of the electorate. And, even better, taking into account seats already won under FPTP, thus correcting for its distortion.


To recap. Labour, facing meltdown at the hands of the First Past The Post electoral system in Scotland, are rescued from utter disaster by a fair voting system, enshrined in proportional representation.

“Lord” Reid, your boys took a hell of a beating.

How do you like them apples, Iain?


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The Arrogance Of FPTP

Posted by The Futility Monster on April 19, 2010 @ 11:58

If only it was...

David Cameron is sounding the alarm bells!

David Cameron has warned a vote for Nick Clegg could leave Britain “stuck” with Labour and said only the Tories can bring “real change”.

He said people were “fed up with the status quo” but without a decisive Tory win “fudge and division” was risked.

In other words, Mr Cameron would like power all to himself, thank you very much, because that’s what everyone’s been saying he was going to get for the past few years, and it’d be awfully mean of you to spoil his plans.

I find it breathtakingly arrogant that David Cameron has the gall to imply that only his party, not the Liberal Democrats, can do something about the status quo.

But wait a minute. Haven’t Labour been warning for years that a vote for the Lib Dems is “a wasted vote”? Andrew Adonis was only calling upon all Lib Dems to unite against David Cameron’s conservatism in a show of progressive unity only a week or so ago. And all that was before the debate had even happened.

First Past the Post denies voters the freedom to choose. It forces us to make a ridiculous judgement in a two-horse race. It ensures that the main two parties always get to make up stories about the bogeymen and women waiting in the third, fourth and various other parties.

Remember 2005? There was this man called Peter Hain, apparently, and he went around the country telling everyone that we really shouldn’t vote Lib Dem because it might let the Tories in “through the back door”. I even wrote about it.

So which is it? Are we letting the Tories in, or are we voting Clegg, getting Brown? Of course, it was bullshit then, and it’s bullshit now. Yes, certain seats, where Lib Dems are a distant third, may indeed produce an unsatisfying party switch. But in the rest, if people switch in sufficient numbers, a Lib Dem vote will deliver a Lib Dem MP.

The truth is neither of these stories are credible. They are designed to scare the electorate into old habits, and perpetuate this rotten paralysis of the two-party, choice free, state.

The real story, however, is much more exciting, but not for the old two parties. The truth could turn the country on its head, and might bring in some very pleasant surprises for all of us. Even non Lib Dems. And, you know, there might not even have to be coalition governments.

Tomorrow I’ll do a little crystal ball gazing. Three posts about three possibilities that could happen if the Lib Dem vote surge continues. I don’t think you should miss them.

In the meantime, please remember to Go Yellow on May 6!

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FPTP: Frankly Pathetic; Totally Preposterous

Posted by The Futility Monster on April 12, 2010 @ 18:12

We Lubs Disproportionate Results!

One of the great defences of our shit electoral system is to say that it is “simple” for voters to both understand and to use. Just get your ballot paper, smear it with a cross (or a smiley face; Returning Officers are very tolerant!) in the appropriate box, and you’re done. Later, we count them up, and whoever gets the most votes wins. Easy!

Proportational representation fans are sometimes flummoxed by this assault. We let the other side get free-hits by saying things are so complicated they have to be counted by computers, and that explaining the counting process is impossible without a degree in mathematics.

But we do ourselves a disservice.

First Past The Post may make it easy to cast a vote, but it is blunt. It allows no nuances, and it certainly doesn’t care how many candidates are in the race.

Voting is something a lot of people take a lot of time over. They umm and ahh about who they should go for, often proceeding on a least-worst option. How can I hurt the candidate I don’t want to win the most? Which one of these candidates do I hate the least? Their preference can change daily.

But in the end, if you have FPTP, none of that thinking matters. You get one chance. If you’re not thinking like everyone else, your vote could be wasted.

So you go back to the drawing board. You try to think like everyone else. You see where the zeitgeist is headed. Which national party has the big momentum. You balance all of these factors, and you end up with what psephologists call tactical voting.

Tactical voting. It doesn’t sound very democratic, does it.

That’s because it isn’t. FPTP limits your choice. It forces you to try to think like everyone else. It squeezes you into a box. It doesn’t allow you to express your real preference, because you don’t want to be one of those wasted votes, do you? It’s a two-horse race, don’t forget.

Tactical voting, and its associated thought processes, actually make FPTP one of the most difficult electoral systems. The poor voter is left with a multitude of factors to weigh up, and that’s assuming they even know what the result was last time. Not everyone knows that you can get the result from last time in seconds off Wikipedia. And then there is the prospect of local parties spinning different election results in different ways to try to prove that they are “the only alternative”. Lib Dems, I’m looking at you…

The culmination of all this is utter confusion, a muddled mess that we expect each and every voter to have to work through in their heads. A purportedly democratic system that only allows people the choice they actually want if they fortunate enough to live in a constituency that allows it. The rest of us live our lives in glorious perpetual safeness, never feeling that joy of being part of a campaign that really could decide the future of the country.

A preferential system, on the other hand, would give everyone the chance to have their vote be worth something. And not only that, they really could express a truly democratic choice, of having their vote fully reflect their beliefs.

So the next time someone says First Past The Post is “simple”, why not remind them just how difficult the choice actually is for the average voter…

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Posted by The Futility Monster on February 17, 2010 @ 10:29

Haven't you always wanted one of these? I know I have...

“Still I need your swing” – almost sang The Kooks in one of their not very good songs that still sticks in my head.

Recently on, long time poster Andy Cooke has written a few articles which have postulated his own theory as to what the election result will be based on various percentage results. They have been hailed as a major breakthrough of the conventional wisdom regarding UNS – Uniform National Swing.

The problem in my mind is that, while Andy’s work is excellent, it is not particularly revolutionary.

No one has ever suggested swing is indeed uniform. After all, Labour took the previously rock solid Tory seat of Crosby in 1997 with the night’s biggest “swing” of 18%; but the national swing was a mere 10%. UNS has always been an extremely simple tool to allow a very quick analysis of a result, to give a rough-and-ready idea of where an election is heading. It was more useful in the days of Labour v Tory, but these days, the plethora of third-parties makes using it for accurate projections extremely dangerous.

As such, I have never paid much attention to it. For years conventional wisdom has been saying the Tories need a 10% lead over Labour just to achieve a majority of 1. That has been based on our old friend, UNS, working in tandem with our appalling electoral system (have I mentioned that I hate our electoral system before?).

But, since everyone knows UNS is very rough, it has always been right to ignore such models. Clearly, the only seats that matter are the marginals, thanks to our electoral system, which, in case you’ve forgotten, I hate. If the Tories are indeed not making much impact in the Labour heartlands, who cares? Instead, if they’re doing well in Middleoftheroad Central and Sittingonthefence West – achieving very high resonance beyond what the national figures are saying, then it really is all over.

All that, and so far I’ve not even mentioned the dreaded “tactical voting”. This has the potential to magnify or dull any speculated surge to the leading party. After all, if non main-party voters decide they’ve had enough of Labour, the Tories will get a bonus. Conversely, if they don’t want Cameron in, Labour’s seat tally where it really counts will get a small but significant boost.

UNS is dead as a serious tool for predicting election results, but the fact is it has been for a very long time. Why else would Electoral Calculus have been providing the ability to set tactical voting parameters and “regional swings” for many years?

All Andy Cooke has done is piss on its grave.

Nevertheless, it is very good work, and it is a very useful addition to our toolbox for predicting what may be the most unpredictable election in modern times…

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Stick Your AV Up Your Arse

Posted by The Futility Monster on February 2, 2010 @ 09:45

Thanks, Wikipedia!

Yesterday, rumours emerged via BBC Political Editor Nick Robinson that the government is planning to slip an amendment into a current bill to give MPs the chance to vote for a referendum to bring in the Alternative Vote (AV).

Later on today, Gordon Brown will back up this proposal with a speech telling the world why he thinks now is a good time for some voting reform.

There are a few problems with this approach.

Number one is the obvious: why now? There is some doubt as to whether this bill will actually make it through Parliament in time for the dissolution. In which case, this is nothing other than spin.

But even if it did, its effect will not be felt till after the election. And, with the Tories so opposed to it, it’s entirely possible that an incoming Tory government could immediately re-legislate to get rid of the referendum. They could fly the populist flags of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” and “it would lead to weak coalition government” and, of course, “scrapping this referendum will save the country money in these tough fiscal times”.

Number two, however, is my real problem with this; and, in truth, probably the reason why we’ll never get any electoral reform in this country.

AV is a waste of time. It is only marginally better than what we currently have now, in the sense that it will ensure the elected MP has a majority of support. But in terms of delivering genuine reform involving better proportionality and fairness, it fails the test. I recall surveys suggesting that it would have magnified Labour’s landslides in 1997 and 2001. I think we’ve got enough problems already with our present system exaggerating the number of MPs for the “winner”.

The problem is that this is purely a gimmick, done purely to ask questions of the Lib Dems. Brown has no history of interest in electoral reform, and there is only weak support on the Labour benches. It is only us Lib Dems who have made a big deal of it over the years. Consequently, Nick Clegg may be in a slight bind, because if he opposes this he’ll look like an opportunist, being a member of a party that has supported voting reform for so long.

So the message has to be simple. Brown’s proposals are not reform in the slightest. They will make the system even more unfair than it is now. And they are being done right now in a desperate and cynical attempt to make him look like a reformer with a vision for change.

Finally, let’s remind him of the fact that Labour first considered this idea 12 years ago and rejected it. What’s changed?

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Newsfelch: 02/10/09 – The Wheel of Life

Posted by The Futility Monster on October 2, 2009 @ 06:43

A translation of this image would be very much appreciated.

A translation of this image would be very much appreciated.

It’s one of those mornings where time is tight… and, in any case, I haven’t wrote much about what’s going on in the world lately, so this seems an opportune moment for some Newsfelch!

  • Could I be wrong? Could my bold prediction that President Blair would not happen be yet another miserable failure? The Times certainly seems to think so. I still find the notion outrageous, that a man that caused such damage to the European relations in the Iraq war could be seen as a credible candidate for the post. But politics is weird…
  • The Tories are going all Obama on us, apparently. Their new organisational tool – – will help rally and organise the grassroots activists in an attempt to form small campaigns with greater involvement from local armchair supporters. It will be interesting to see how they get on. Political activity is seen as somewhat lame in this country; will an increasingly apathetic electorate learn to get involved?
  • Brown suddenly loves the alternative vote. Shame about the fact that AV can, in many cases, be less proportional than the current system. I haven’t decided yet, but I think this is one Lib Dem that will be opposed to Brown’s sudden new-found love.
  • The EU treaty rumbles on in the background. How will Ireland vote? In favour, I fully expect. Good. I’ll be glad when this tedious nonsense gets buried and we can move on to more substantive EU questions. Like a common asylum policy. Now that would be an extremely good thing for the EU to sort out: and it would reduce the number of asylum seekers/refugees that we take. How could any UKIPer be opposed to that?!
  • And so they should. Blair blocked any chances of a prosecution of BAE last time. There’s something very fishy about their operations, for sure. Let’s root it out.
  • Latest polling is showing, apparently, how fickle the electorate is. A speech here and there and the polls move violently. And I can’t really imagine that tens of millions of people are interested in party conferences anyway, but nothing else can be moving the polls so much. But this is why I haven’t covered the Lib Dems high percentages in the polls earlier in the week. Stick to the Monster’s Poll, that’s what I say. Solid and dependable!
  • Finally, it’s beginning to look more and more like the NHS is going to have to be the front-line in spending cuts. Cameron’s pledge to ring-fence the NHS budget always did seem a little hasty, but was obviously motivated by media image. As usual…

And that’s quite enough for now. Time for a 2.5 hour train journey to Rochdale. Which, bizarrely, is longer than it would take to get to London from where I am. But maybe that’s intentional…

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Will Woolaston Win?

Posted by The Futility Monster on August 5, 2009 @ 14:53

Yes She Will; and at least the local electorate had some say in the matter, unlike other safe seats...

Yes She Will; and at least the local electorate had some say in the matter, unlike other safe seats...

The Tories little exercise in democracy in Totnes has attracted a lot of interest, especially as the winning candidate, who now becomes the Tories candidate for the constituency, and surely the next MP for the seat, has only been a member of the Tories for three years.

How upsetting that must be for all those other local Conservatives who’d been climbing that greasy pole for years, jockeying for position, waiting for Anthony Steen MP to retire, when all of a sudden a carpet-bagger arrives and – worse – is endorsed by 25% of the electorate before she’s even run for office. What a confidence booster for her to have so much legitimacy before she’s even begun.

Yes, democracy really is a ruddy shame sometimes, getting in the way of all that hard fought patronage and back-scratching. Oh, OK – I admit it… yes, this was a very limited primary, the voters only getting to choose from three hand-picked candidates. But it is a very interesting step in the right direction, one that seems to suggest that voters have engaged with the process fairly meaningfully and can be trusted to choose a sensible candidate… even when members of other parties are invited in.

However, I’m not going to claim that open primaries are about to rescue our democracy. But the outcome of this one is an encouraging sign that people are prepared to get involved. They could certainly make selecting candidates in safe seats, where the winner is almost certain to become an MP, more interesting in the sense that, even though the electorate may have little outcome to which rosette the winning MP is going to be wearing… they can at least choose who that will be from the likely winning party.

I’d favour a closed primary system, with individual registration and each citizen specifies which party they are a supporter of. If they don’t want to indicate a party support, that is fine, and they could still decide just before the closed primary which one they would like to vote in. That way, only registered party supporters will get a say on the candidate. That seems fair and sensible. Much as it seems unlikely, it could potentially be possible in certain seats for an organised campaign by the opposition to influence the outcome of an open primary. 1,000 mischievous Tories in a seat like Bootle (and they do exist) could certainly shift the result if Labour turnout was poor, as it almost certainly would be.

The key point to all this is to try and remove some power from the hands of the local parties, which are invariably cliques of people who all know each other and select each other as candidates at varying times. This is especially true for small parties. But how much more legitimate, and engaging to local party supporters, but not activists, would the whole process be if all of them were invited to get involved?

Despite all this, I’m still unconvinced, simply because there is a much more elegant solution.

STV. The Single Transferable Vote. The system that effectively allows us to combine party primaries and an actual election in the one package. Each election is a genuine fight not only between but within the parties.

That is, unless you’re Sinn Fein – whose fantastically loyal support literally take orders on a street-by-street level on how to rank the candidates. Vote management is the name of the game.

Some say this is a flaw of STV. It is. But all systems are flawed. STV is the best of a bad bunch.

But since we’re never going to get STV, closed primaries will have to do.

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The Lucky Few (Hundred Thousand?)

Posted by The Futility Monster on July 22, 2009 @ 00:55

Ain't Democracy Appealing?

Ain't Democracy Appealing?

As we all know, the next election will probably not be decided by you or me.

That’s because for the vast majority of us, we live in a constituency that is almost certain to deliver the same result as it always has done.

In my case, it will be Labour. It has been Labour for some time… though – and this almost blows my argument apart before I even start – it was once a Tory seat.

But what gets me back on track is that the change was down to demographics, as the fortunate middle class or the working class who succeeded moved out, leaving behind the classic Labour voter.

Demographics is always the most tedious of electoral explanations. It basically means people have moved. Or favourable things have happened in the birth or migration rates for certain populations. Hardly a principled sign that people have thought carefully about the alternatives presented to them and made a positive choice for one party over another…

Anyway – these safe seats mean that any election bypasses most of us by. Some of us may be fortunate enough to experience the clamour of a by-election. But, again, they are the lucky few.

Ferdinand Mount, a name I’d rather forgot from my politics degree, estimated that there are around 800,000 people in the marginal seats across the UK who decide which party gets elected to power. Hardly a sign of a burgeoning, flourishing democracy.

The rest of us have to be content with our vote merely showing up in the popular vote figures as Jeremy Vine dances in front of the new laser-powered swingometer. And, as the Americans will tell you, the national popular vote doesn’t really count for much.

In some ways, all of this rather shines a revealing light on the pointlessness of democracy. Rational choice theory would suggest that for the average, rational, self-interested Joe or Joeina, the costs of voting far outweigh the benefits. The chances of being the one who casts the decisive vote in an election are as close to zero as they possibly can be. Results are rarely tied, or go one either way, so there’s no incentive for a voter to think “If I hadn’t voted… X would have won”.

And yet most of us still vote. And not just the lucky 800,000. I will still be there casting my ballot, no matter how futile the whole operation. No matter how obvious it is that the useless Labour clown will win.

Part of the problem is, of course, the electoral system. First Past The Post gives us all of these safe seats in the first place. Genuine electoral reform – using the Single Transferable Vote – would give us a chance to make some progress. It would give more of the people the chance to influence the result, rather than simply focusing on the narrow whims of the elite band who matter in the marginal seats: seats which do not reflect the full diversity of Britain today.

But even with that, genuine democratic choice will still remain the preserve of the few. After all, the necessary evil of the party system, and the nature of our Westminster-centric democracy are two of the greatest barriers which keep people out of the loop.

And then there will always remain the stubborn, and growing, ranks of the non-voter. Those who just don’t care either way but will moan all the same.

All of this adds up to a rather unsatisfactory outcome. Democracy is our best bet, in spite of all its flaws, all its failings, and the willingness of the people who live under it to become apathetic and unappreciative of the benefits it brings.

Democracy: the least-worst option.

Hardly inspiring.

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