An indicative vote on the government’s Brexit deal has been suggested as a means of determining which of the options available to parliament has the best chance of securing the support of the House of Commons. In this post, Albert Weale examines how an indicative vote process would work, and whether or not it offers a workable solution to what appears to be a parliamentary impasse.
Pressure is growing for an indicative vote in the Commons to break the Brexit logjam. Such a vote would allow MPs to vote on a number of alternatives to the government’s ‘deal’, as laid out in the Withdrawal Agreement announced in November. The purpose of such a vote would be to see whether there was significant support in the Commons for each of the specified alternatives. A similar exercise was tried in 2003 when the then Labour government was seeking support for reform of the House of Lords, and in particular what balance of elected or appointed members a reformed upper chamber should contain. It did not work then, but could it work in the case of Brexit? Answering this question depends on three things: how many options are voted on, how the votes are counted, and the extent to which MPs engage in strategic voting. All three elements interact in complex ways.
To understand the basic logic, consider a simplified version of the various options that are likely to be proposed. With no abstentions, a majority on a motion in the Commons requires 320 votes to pass. In Figure 1, I have shown five possible motions that could be put to an indicative vote. Other things being equal, the more alternatives there are, the harder it is to obtain a majority for any one of them. 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 →