Monday, 7 June 2010

Clegg signals no 'Devonwall' seat

Nick Clegg has set out the Government's plans for electoral reform and the best news is that there is enough flexibility that a cross border 'Devonwall' seat seems unlikely to be foisted upon us.

A bill to allow a referendum on changing the voting system to give electors more choice and to cut the number of MPs will apparently be introduced sooner rather than later with a referendum planned for next May.

The change in the voting system - to the Alternative Vote - will ask electors in future to rank the candidates in order of preference - 1,2,3 etc. This means that there will be no more wasted votes as, until one candidate gets more than half the votes cast, the bottom candidate is excluded and their votes redistributed according to each elector's next choice. So even if you think that, say, the Green Party have no chance of winning, you can still vote for them knowing that if they cannot win, your vote will then be transferred to your next favoured party.

The downside is that you still only get a choice of one candidate per party. So if your party insists on putting forward a candidate you don't approve of, you have no chance to vote for another candidate from that party.

The other problem with AV is that it is not a proportional system - so some parties will continue to be over-represented and others will still not get as many seats as votes. But majoritarian systems like AV and the current First Past the Post also see fewer women, ethnic minorities and young people elected as Julia Goldsworthy points out.

(UPDATE - Stephen Tall suggests reasons why David Cameron won't campaign against a change to AV)

I have blogged about the reduction in the number of MPs before. The risk is that the system will be so inflexible that Cornwall will not have a round number of MPs. Instead, part of the Duchy will have to join with part of either Plymouth or Devon in a cross border 'Devonwall' seat. Such a move would be an anathema to people in both Cornwall and Devon. But Nick Clegg has signalled that there will be some flexibility in the new scheme and so the chances of a Devonwall seat are considerably lessened. I know that the Cornish Lib Dem MPs will campaign to make sure that there is no cross border seat. I hope that our local Conservative MPs will also speak up on the issue.

Labour, incidentally, are complaining that reducing the number of MPs and trying to make seats more equal in size is 'blatant gerrymandering'. The motivation is far from biased however. How can seats in Wales be, on average, around 15,000 voters smaller than those in England. This is an anomaly that should be, and will be, addressed by this move.

1 comment:

Líam said...

As something of a boundary change anorak, I have attempted to re-draw my home county of Lancashire under the new electorate figures; crossing the border into Greater Manchester is unavoidable.

I can't help worrying that, in trying to create equal sized seats, while at the same time avoiding known trouble spots like "Devonwall" ("Corvon"?), will result in even more of a mess than at the moment!