On dual candidacy, let’s play nice

Electoral Reform Society,

Posted on the 18th December 2013

The UK Government has confirmed its intention to lift the ban on dual candidacy in its Draft Wales Bill. In a nutshell, dual candidacy is when an individual contests both a constituency seat and a party list (known in Wales as regional lists).

Having a ban on dual candidacy is a curious situation stemming from Wales’s semi-proportional way of electing Assembly Members. Known as the Additional Member System, it’s a voting system that’s used across the world from Germany to New Zealand. The bulk of parliamentarians are elected in First Past the Post single-member constituencies, with remaining members elected via regional or national lists. As First Past The Post almost always produces distorted results, it’s a way of correcting disproportionality and ensuring voters get the politicians they want. It’s thought that Wales and the Ukraine are the only countries in the world that use this system but ban dual candidacy.

Over the coming weeks, the Electoral Reform Society will be outlining why lifting the ban on dual candidacy is a good idea. But before then, as we approach the season of goodwill, let’s remind ourselves about the importance of being nice.

Constitutional politics can be a dirty business. Most politicians I talk to dismiss political reform as a ‘bubble issue’ – it’s not what people want to talk about on the doorstep, they tell me. In reality, political reform is anything but a bubble issue. Scratch the surface and most non-political people I talk to are angry about how our political system works. Democracy, they say, should be better than this.

On virtually all constitutional questions – whether we should elect our decision-makers using a fair voting system; whether we should have elected police commissioners; whether we need more Assembly Members – the main parties have a variety of views within. On dual candidacy, though, each of the parties are fairly united in their opinion. All four parties will have genuinely held, principled views for or against the ban. But, perhaps by coincidence, each of the parties backs a policy which is in their own self-interest. By virtue of how the votes stack up in Wales, Labour benefits the most from the ban. The unpredictability of how we elect AMs means that lifting the ban benefits the Conservatives, Plaid Cymru and the Liberal Democrats. Tensions will run high.

Voters hate the idea of politicians changing the constitution to benefit themselves, which is why in months ahead all parties in Westminster and the Assembly should bear in mind their language. Accusations of vote-rigging and gerrymandering do nothing to boost the general public’s trust in politicians.

So let’s all share a New Year’s resolution. When the debate kicks off in January, let’s keep it clean. Let’s debate the evidence. Let opponents not assume the worst of each other and let’s try to keep the debate above the day-to-day sparring match which is parliamentary politics.

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