Thoughts on politics and life from a liberal perspective

Saturday, 13 June 2009

David Cameron should accept David Davis is the real Tory leader

David Cameron has spent a lot of time in the last few weeks talking about how great the First Past the Post electoral system is. He will not countenance any change from this even though MPs can end up elected with often much less than 50% of the vote in their own constituency.

What I find fascinating about this is that if you follow his line of reasoning to its logical conclusion then David Cameron should not be leader of the Conservative party at all. Instead it should be David Davis.

Have a look at this page on Keele University's website where it tracked the voting during the 2005 Conservative leadership contest. You can see quite clearly that in the first round of voting, the following votes were cast:

If this had been a First Past the Post election then David Davis would have been elected leader. Of course that is not what happened and instead there were two more rounds of voting as Ken Clarke and Liam Fox were eliminated and then Cameron and Davis went through to the final round where Cameron got more than two thirds of the votes.

The Conservatives do not trust First Past the Post to elect their own leaders. Indeed if they had have done there would have been a very different result but they clearly do not think that it is fair and does not produce a result that represents the real feeling of the electorate. This is proven by their own results in each round from the 2005 leadership election.

So why do they think it is fair for this system to be foisted on the rest of us for elections for seats to Westminster?

UPDATE: I have had a number of people (including in the comments below) pointing out that the first two rounds were just the MPs which whittled the candidates down to two before they were put to the party as a whole. That is a fair point but it does still show that the Conservative Party has not chosen a FPTP system to elect their leader, instead they used an electoral college (presumably trying to reflect the views of the party at large) in the first two rounds followed by a run off from the party members proper. This is actually closer to how an Alternative Vote system would work with the different rounds to an extent reflecting MPs second and third preferences as they moved forward.

I still think it is a legitimate question to ask why this sort of principle can be applied to their leadership but not at election time for MPs.


Constantly Furious said...

Excellent spot, Mark!

Let's hear your statement on that, CallMeDave.


Kalvis Jansons said...

This is a real can of worms! Nice one.

Unknown said...

Now all we need is to find someone who will ask him this question the next time he's interviewed on TV.

Mark Wadsworth said...


Except this bit:
"there were two more rounds of voting as Ken Clarke and Liam Fox were elimiated"

Surely, Liam Fox was eliminated in the first round so there was only one more round. And there's an 'n' in 'eliminated'.

Mark Thompson said...

Ha! Thanks for the typo correction.

As for the two rounds, there were two more rounds. Ken Clarke was eliminated in the first round. In the second round Liam Fox was eliminated. The final round was just between Cameron and Davis. I think that is correct.

Mark Thompson said...

Reg - very good point. I have been in touch with a national TV journalist and he has said that he will ask Cameron if he gets to interview him in the near future.

However the way to get this question out there is to blog on it and propagate it around the internet. Also if you are on Twitter you can retweet this message:

"RT @MarkReckons David Cameron should accept that David Davis is rightful Tory leader under First Past the Post:"

Which will help to spread it. If it gains enough traction, it will be asked to him by someone eventually.

So go forth and multiply!

Steve said...

Had the voters known that it was a FPTP vote they would/may have probably voted differently.

Still, it's a very, very good point.

Drake said...

"Foisted"? Foisted implies that FPTP advocates are proffering something other than the status quo. The onus is on you chaps to come up with a reason to change from FPTP.

If you lot had any guts you'd be grasping at your historic opportunity to reclaim your place as the not-Tories from the Socialists. But you don't so the country will remain cursed with a viable Labour party, while you spend another generation crying into your beer about how life's not fair.

Mark Thompson said...

Drake. We only have FPTP because of the fact that it is an historical legacy. If we were creating the Westminster parliament from scratch we would have a proportional system as has been proven by the systems introduced for NI, Scotland Wales and London in recent years. Indeed these systems have allowed a renaissance for Tory support in Scotland and Wales.

There are absolutely loads of reasons to change FPTP which I and other electoral reformers have listed on numerous occasions. Have a look here for starters. People like you just don't listen because you have too much vested interest in the existing system.

I don't really understand what you are on about in your last paragraph. It sounds like nonsense to me. As far as I can tell the Lib Dems are grasping this historic opportunity. We have been ahead of Labour in some recent polls and are second and challenging them in lots of seats. I really do think that in 5 or 10 years time we could seriously be challenging for power.

Anonymous said...

One big problem, the PCP was tasked with coming up with two candidates to put forward for the grass roots membership to chose from.

So no, Davis didn't win a FPTP leadership election within the party, but Cameron did win very convincingly.

All a bit desperate.

Cardinal Richelieu's mole said...

Anonymous (next above) makes a fair point.

Acceptable interpretations would include the notion that the votes prior to the "Electoral College" round were in the nature of open primaries.

Mark Thompson said...

Some people including Anonymous above have made the comment that my post does not reflect that fact that the first two rounds were of the MPs only and the final round was put to the membership at large.

This is a fair point and I have added an update to the post about this.

Anonymous said...

All a bit laughable really.

Out of interest, how many Lib Dems get elected with more than 50% of the constituency vote? I'd be willing to wager a substantial sum it's less than 5. But then what else can a party which is nothing more than a protest vote expect!

Mark Thompson said...

I don't think it is laughable to point out inconsistencies in the way a political party treats its own internal elections compared to the system it advocates for Westminster elections.

I don't know the answer to your question but I do know that not very many MPs from any party get more than 50% of the vote in their constituency. I am not really sure what the relevance of your question is to what I am arguing.

I am saying that FPTP is an unfair system that massively favours the 2 main political parties.

Oh, and feel free to leave your real name the next time you want to leave a comment.

Anonymous said...

Why can't you lot be honest about your reasoning? You only want PR as you think it suits YOU better than any other system, not because you think it is better for the country.

I would far rather see a strong and stable government of any colour, be it red, blue or even yellow (as if) which had a majority through FPTP than see ridiculous coalitions which give power to fringe parties. What would be the price of Labour having to work with the Socialists or the Tories having to work with UKIP?

I imagine the Lib Dems could be bought off fairly easily with tax allowances for beards, sandals and quiche though.

And before you say that Labour are neither strong nor stable, that is as a result of their own intenal wranglings rather than due to a lack of majority from the electoral system.

Mark Thompson said...

Anonymous. I am being honest about my reasoning.

I have been an advocate of electoral reform for many, many years and I only joined the Lib Dems last year. In fact it is one of the main reasons I joined them. I feel extremely passionately about this issue as the current system seems to me to completely go against natural justice and proper democracy.

I really do think it would be better for the country to have its views properly represented in parliament rather than have power swing back and forth between two parties neither of whom ever represent more than about two fifths of the country.

Why are coalitions ridiculous? There are loads of countries that use PR and seem to manage fine. Labour and the Conservatives are coalitions in and of themselves anyway it's just that they thrash out their differences largely behind closed doors so it is actually less democratic than a much more publicly debated proper coalition between parties would be.

For strong government read Poll Tax, ID cards, Iraq War etc. etc. etc. I would rather have more consensual policy making with a broad based consensus where our leaders can only legislate by winning the argument rather than whipping whatever they fancy through. In the current system we end up with an elected dictatorship.

Oh and great jokes about the Lib Dems by the way. You probably want to try calling them TEH LIMP DUMBS!!!11 or something similar though for greater comic effect. Every single Lib Dem I have ever met HAS had a beard, AND wears sandals whilst eating quiche. All day every day. It's funny because it's true.

J said...

"That is a fair point but it does still show that the Conservative Party has not chosen a FPTP system to elect their leader"


The election is FPTP between the two candidates.

The procedure for selecting candidates for election is independent of the election procedure.

I can't believe you're too dim to realise this, so am forced to conclude that you're trying to stir up trouble.

Mark Thompson said...

Hi J.

I certainly did not take enough care when originally doing this blog post to highlight the distinction between the first 2 rounds of voting by the MPs and the final round by the membership. Hands up on that one. They are however still multiple rounds.

Your accusation here that I am either too dumb or making trouble by not accepting that the final round is FPTP I am afraid does not stand up. You cannot just extract the final round where the field has been whittled down to two and claim it is FPTP. That is just not true.

One of the big weaknesses of FPTP is that candidates came "come through the middle" and end up winning on a minority of the vote by the vote being split between two or more other candidates. There are some constituencies where that happens and where had there been rounds of voting where the bottom candidate is elminated, there would now be a different MP.

For the Conservative leadership election they obviously wanted to make sure that did not happen so they have the rounds of voting (albeit the first few rounds are done by the MPs) and the 2 whittled down candidates are presented to the party. There is no risk this way of the vote being split and a candidate winning on less than half of the vote.

As I said in my update this is analagous to an AV form of voting with the MPs acting as a proxy for the membership in the early rounds.

So, again I ask the question why is it fair for the Conservative party to use a system for the election of its own leader that ensures one of the worst elements of the FPTP system does not affect it when it insists that it is the best system to elect MPs to Westminster?

I am really not trying to stir up trouble. If you read some of my other blog posts you will see that is not really my style. I just am passionate about electoral reform and I think I have uncovered an anomaly here that merits debate.

I can see from your blog that you are very interested in tracking polls and showing how this would affect General Election results. Do you not think it is unfair that the Tories look set for a huge majority on around 40% of the vote?