Voting Reform

This week MPs returned to Westminster after the summer recess.

On our first day back, the Coalition's proposals to give people a chance to reform the parliamentary voting system and to equalise the size of our parliamentary constituencies were voted through.

Trust in our politics has been eroded and we believe it's crucial to restore confidence.  So we're tackling the unfairness in the geography of constituencies by making sure votes count equally wherever they are cast, and cutting the number of MPs to 600.

A leaner House of Commons is vital to redistributing power away from the centre to local people and will also help cut the cost of politics.

The other key measure in our proposals is the referendum on whether to change from first-past-the-post to the alternative voting (AV) system, where voters rank candidates in order of preference.

Under AV, candidates must obtain over half of the vote rather than a simple majority.  In this constituency at the recent election, I received over half of the share of the vote.  But in most seats the winner doesn't.  Under AV in such circumstances, second preference votes are redistributed until someone gets over 50 per cent.

Supporters of AV say it would maintain existing constituency boundaries, ensure that all MPs are supported by a majority of their constituents, and discourage negative campaigning by forcing candidates to chase second and third preferences.

However, others suggest that it would produce even less proportional results.  For instance, Labour's huge majority in 1997 would have been even larger under AV.

Australia's recent election using a form of AV will add to the debate.  The Liberal-National Coalition won more first and second preference votes, yet it's the Labor Party that has formed the government.  And this was after two weeks of wrangling, with the final say resting with a single independent MP.

So the proposals will be hotly debated.  But the final judgment on such a fundamental change ought not to be taken by politicians alone.

That's why we voted to put this question to the people next May.  It's a remarkable thought that next summer we will all be voting in the first UK-wide referendum for over 35 years.

Christopher N Howarth