Thoughts on politics and life from a liberal perspective

Sunday, 27 March 2011

When will the Tories change their leadership elections to FPTP?

In the last few months I have lost count of the number of senior Conservatives who have gone on the record as claiming that AV gives some voters "more than one vote". Indeed the No2AV campaign which is being led from the front by the Conservatives is soon to launch their next phase entitled "Keep One Person One Vote". Look, Matthew Elliot the No2AV campaigns director has just been given a plum spot on ConservativeHome today to evangelise about this.

Now I have always thought this argument is a load of rubbish. AV just gives one vote to each person but that vote is transferable. It means all electors have the chance to have their say about who is ultimately elected by being able to express a preference about who is chosen from candidates in later rounds even if their initial first (or second etc.) choice is eliminated.

The funny thing is that the Conservative Party understands this as well. Given their blanket statements about how preferential systems give "more than one vote" they actually use a preferential system to elect their own leaders.

The rules are that there are a number of rounds in which all Conservative MPs can vote and each round the candidate with the fewest votes is eliminated. This continues until there are just two candidates left and these then go forward to a ballot of the party membership in the country.

OK, I grant you it is not identical to AV but it certainly shares similar hallmarks and is far closer to AV than FPTP. But one thing that cannot be disputed is that the Conservative leadership election rules by their own terms give the voters in the initial rounds "more than one vote".

In the 2005 Conservative leadership election there were two rounds of MP voting before the candidates were whittled down to two to go to the country. In the first round the results were:

David Davis: 31.3%
David Cameron: 28.3%
Liam Fox: 21.2%
Ken Clarke: 19.2%

So Ken Clarke was eliminated and the MPs got to vote all over again.

But hang on a minute! That means that all the MPs who voted for Ken Clarke who was eliminated got "more than one vote". They were able to go on to vote for one of the candidates who still remained in the contest. That is precisely what the Conservatives are claiming is anti-democratic now and why we should keep First Past The Post.

I know people will say that the systems are different and also claim that it is invalid to compare electing a party leader to electing an MP but I am afraid that does not wash. The Conservatives and the No2AV campaign have made it very clear that it is fundamental point of principle that in an election no voter should have "more than one vote". There is no difference between electing a leader and electing an MP when it comes to fundamental points of principle.

So to give the Conservatives the benefit of the doubt for a minute, perhaps they have not really realised until now how anti-democratic (by their own terms) their leadership election rules are. Fair enough, everyone makes mistakes. But now that pretty much every Conservative cabinet minister has been banging on for months about how voters should not be allowed "more than one vote" there is no further defence of their leadership election system that will cut any ice. It is imperative that they change the system to First Past The Post. The only way they can avoid the terrible consequences that they themselves have highlighted in future leadership elections is to put all candidates immediately to a ballot of the party in the country where each voter only gets to mark an X against the candidate they want to win.

Of course doing it this way might mean that their leader only has the support of a third or perhaps less of the electorate (a bit like we get with some MPs now) but that is a small price to pay to ensure that no voters get "more than one vote".

The fact that the Conservatives have made no moves at all to change their leadership election rules in the light of what they must surely understand is a serious anomaly I think tells you all you need to know about how much they really believe that preferential voting breaches some fundamental democratic principle. Indeed it makes it clear that they understand the value of allowing every member of an electorate the chance to influence which candidates go through to the final round.

We should judge the Conservatives by their actions, not their words. And by their actions with respect to their own leadership elections they damn one of their main arguments against AV.


Jonathan Gillespie said...

A pointless article for two reasons: firstly, you use the right system of voting fore the right contest and secondly what is used in the Leadership contest is a different system to AV so you can't presume the Tories should change their voting styles for the leadership election because they oppose AV!

Martin said...

Not sure this is right. The argument given by the Conservatives and No2AV people against AV is because voters who support the top losing party ie. the one that ends up second, only have 1 of their preferences count, whilst supporters of all other losing parties get at least two of their preferences counted.

When there is a run-off election, all voters get to go again. So a Ken Clarke voter may have lost first go and then 'won' when Cameron was elected... or a David Davis voter may have change their mind and picked Cameron therefore 'winning' both times. Or a Liam Fox voter who switched to DD may have lost both times. But they had the same say in every round.

oldpolitics said...

One might also ask when the Fabian Society will change their internal elections from First Past the Post, mightn't one.

Horses for courses; I think the argument is less valid for run-off elections in multiple rounds, because you might change your mind in between, so you are genuinely casting a new vote - most people will stick with their initial preference if they're still in it, but some might not, based on the new evidence.

In any event, the key issue here is whether you see electing an MP as a single event, entire of itself - in which case AV makes some sense - or whether you see it as part of a simultaneous national process of electing an assembly, in which case the centripetal features of AV, among others, are a bug rather than a feature.

Anonymous said...

The essential point is that it was NOT fptp.

Anonymous said...

This article hits the nail on the head. If FPTP is so democratic why don't any of the parties use it for chosing their own leader. Fact is that A/V ensures the most acceptable canididate to the electorate and therefore far more democratic. Rob