There has for some time been an apparent consensus in parliament and government that the House of Lords has too many members, yet recent efforts to effect reform have made little progress. David Beamish explainshow an apparent change of government position and the parliamentary tacticsof a determined minority have slowed the pace of change.
There has long been concern, both within parliament and outside it, about the number of members of the House of Lords – currently over 780. The prospect of major reform seems remote. However, there have been two strands of activity to try to reduce the numbers: the proposals of the Lord Speaker’s committee on the size of the House (the Burns committee), and a private member’s bill to end by-elections to replace hereditary peers (the Grocott bill).
In November 2017 I wrote a blog post describing the publication of the report of the Burns committee as ‘a real opportunity for progress on reform’. In July 2018 I wrote another blog post on the continuing hereditary peer by-elections in the House, ending with the comment that, although other issues currently dominate the political and parliamentary agenda, ‘there may nevertheless be some prospect of real progress in relation to both the size of the House of Lords and the ending of the hereditary peer by-elections’. Subsequently there was heartening progress on both fronts, but last month saw two reverses.Continue reading →
Following last night’s inconclusive votes in the House of Commons, MPs are heading for another round of voting on Brexit options next Monday. The hope is that new voting rules will help deliver a compromise solution. In this post, Alan Renwick argues that a bold approach to the voting system could achieve a great deal – though, ultimately, compromise will be attainable only if MPs want it.
MPs last night declined to give majority backing to any of the eight Brexit options put before them. The architects of the ‘indicative voting’ process expected this and have therefore reserved next Monday for a second round. They hope to find a route towards a compromise that will break the Brexit impasse, and they have repeatedly suggested that a different voting process could facilitate that.
There are at least three fundamental questions about that process. First, what options will be included? All of last night’s options – plus the deal as it stands – might go forward, or they could be whittled down to a shorter list, or some options could be packaged in a new way. Second, how should the choice be structured? Writing on this blog earlier in the week, Meg Russell suggested that the options put should be mutually exclusive and exhaustive, and that two dimensions – outcomes and processes – should be separated out. Some MPs have adopted similar arguments. Third, by what voting system should MPs make their choice? Last night’s ballot used a series of yes/no votes, but something less crude is envisaged for Monday.
All of these questions are crucial, but this post focuses largely on the third. Its message is that MPs could indeed greatly ease the path to compromise through their choice of voting system. The rules cannot, however, do all the work on their own. Compromise can be reached only if MPs want it.Continue reading →
As British Columbia prepares for a referendum on the voting method for provincial elections, Jameson Quinn (in the first of two posts on the subject) discusses the historical background to the vote, analyses the options on the ballot, and sets out the rules the campaigns will have to follow.
From October 22nd to November 30th, British Columbia (BC) will be carrying out a vote-by-mail referendum on changing the voting method for provincial elections from choose-one (aka First Past the Post, or FPTP) to some form of proportional representation (which I’ll abbreviate as pro-rep, since the initialism PR has too many other meanings to work well in the age of Google).
In this post, I’ll discuss the context and structure of this referendum, from a largely neutral point of view. I’ll save opinionated advocacy for a separate follow-up post.
This will be the third time the province votes on such a change. The first of BC’s voting reform referendums traces its roots back to the 1996 provincial election. Then, the NDP (center-left New Democratic Party) got 52% of seats despite having 39% of votes, less than the Liberals’ 42% (the province’s rightmost major party). This ‘wrong winner’ election (the province’s first since 1954) motivated Liberals to put voting reform (without specifics) on their platform. Continue reading →
As the debate about whether or not to have a second Brexit referendum continues, the form any such process might take remains unclear. Ahead of the launch of his new book on particpatory democracy, Albert Weale argues that caution should be exercised when considering the use of the Alternative Vote system in any future Brexit referendum.
In a valuable blog on what question might be put to voters in a second Brexit referendum, Jess Sargeant, Alan Renwick and Meg Russell conclude that if a three-way option is put to voters, the alternative vote (AV) system could be the right one to use. The basis for this conclusion is that when three options are involved, the option that receives the single largest number of votes may not receive an overall majority. So some system is needed to find out if there is an all-round winner, and the AV system of voting will do this.
It is certainly true that when voters have to choose among three alternatives, the operation of majority voting gets quite complex. This is one of the reasons why, as I explain in my forthcoming The Will of the People: A Modern Myth, it is relying on a myth to talk about ‘the will of the people’ emerging from a referendum. This does not mean abandoning majority voting. But it does mean that we need to be careful in the way we apply the majority principle. Continue reading →
Which options might voters be asked to choose between?
Three main options could be considered for inclusion in any further referendum on Brexit:
leave the EU on the terms the government has negotiated
leave the EU without a deal
remain in the EU
Some might add a fourth option: to reopen negotiations. But any option put to a referendum must satisfy two criteria: it must be feasible, and it must be clear. An option to reopen negotiations would fail on both counts: the EU might well refuse to reopen negotiations; and there would be no certainty as to what the UK might secure from such negotiations. A referendum of this kind could not ‘settle’ the issue of the UK’s relationship with the EU.
What form might the question take?
With three options in play, decisions would need to be taken about which of them should appear on the ballot paper, in what form, and in what combination. Continue reading →