What elections should the next government reform?

Thea Ridley-Castle, Research and Policy Officer

Posted on the 8th March 2023

Last week we published a blog on UK electoral reforms since 1997 and highlighted that whilst at Westminster the fight for electoral reform continues, the progress of reform across the UK increased and voters are benefitting from these reforms.

This week we’re looking forward to the next government and thinking about what reforms could be introduced.

Electoral reforms we need in Westminster

House of Commons

The biggest reform would be changing the voting system at Westminster, the ERS advocates for introducing Proportional Representation for the House of Commons, specifically Single Transferable Vote (STV). Currently, the government is granted unrestrained power from the plurality of the vote, there is little need to collaborate or form consensus across other parties and between legislative bodies.

First Past The Post (FPTP) is not conductive to creating long-term policy visions or sharing power in a productive and equitable way. The introductive of PR could transform Westminster from an overcentralised body and move towards a voting system which represented the votes and the voters and therefore encourage a more stable balance of power.

House of Lords

Whilst the hereditary Peers in the House of Lords have been elected via Alternative Vote since 1999, the majority of Peers remain appointed. The ERS believes that the House of Lords is a central pillar to the governance of the UK and needs to be reformed in order to accurately represent the UK.

There is public support for an elected House of Lords. Polling by Survation for the ERS in 2020 found that 71 percent of the public backed reform of the House of Lords, with only 12 percent supporting the status quo. Earlier this year (2023), the Byline Times commissioned new polling on the HoL, which showed public attitude for the House of Lords is broadly in favour of reform:

  • 69% of people surveyed said the House of Lords should either be elected or abolished altogether
  • 7% of people surveyed who believe the House of Lords should remain as it is
  • 31% of respondents believed that the House of Lords should be abolished, while 45% of people supported some form of election to make it more democratic.

Not only is there broad public support for reforming the House of Lords, there is also an argument that an elected House of Lords can and should act as a forum in which the nations and localities of the UK can work together and offer a space for union-wide collaboration; a space for post-devolution cooperation to be championed and respected.

Ways to improve English local government

Unlike their counterparts in Scotland and Northern Ireland which champion the use of STV in local elections, English local government remains stuck in the quagmire of First Past the Post. Wales has followed the Scottish example and in 2020 local councils were granted the choice to keep or scrap First Past the Post.

An intuitive fix to this disparity between the devolved nations would be for English local government to follow in the steps of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland and mandate the adoption of PR across English local government.

Welsh Local Government Reforms

As mentioned above, in 2020 the Welsh Parliament/Senedd voted 39-16 to pass the Local Government and Elections (Wales) Bill. This Bill allows Welsh local councils to move to a system that gives voters more choice, ensures their vote counts and delivers greater representation; STV. In the next 2 years, electoral reform campaigners across Wales will be increasing their momentum behind the campaign for STV in an effort to increase the number of Councils adopting STV by the deadline of the 15th November 2025.

Police and Crime Commissioners (PCCs)

In a blow for electoral reform campaigners, in 2021 the Government announced plans to change the voting system for PCCs from the Supplementary Vote (SV) to First Past the Post. At present, if no candidate gets over 50% of the vote, the top two candidates continue to a run-off and all other candidates are eliminated. When casting their ballot voters can put a second choice (who they would vote for in a runoff) on the original ballot paper.

Police and Crime Commissioners should not be able to sneak in on small shares of the vote with First Past the Post. At a minimum they should revert to Supplementary Vote, at best they should move to an even fairer system.

Changing the way we elect mayors in England

The same changes that the Government announced for PCCs apply to Mayoral elections from 2021 onwards. The introduction of First Past the Post for Mayoral elections is a retrograde step in the progress of the adoption of fairer voting systems in England – and goes against the result of the Greater London Authority referendum of 1998 which saw 72.01% vote in favour of a London Mayor elected via SV.

And finally… Eurovision

This year the UK will host Eurovision, *cue excitement from everyone at ERS*. As Eurovision comes to the UK it’s the ideal time to relaunch our long-running campaign for a change in the voting system to give us a decent shot at that number 1 slot we’ve missed out on for SO many years. Eurovision currently uses a system of electoral colleges where each country distributes its 58 points by Borda count, which has led to ‘bloc voting’ – such as the Nordic bloc.

Introducing STV for Eurovision would make all votes matter and reduce national bloc voting. Contestants would be more likely to gain votes from encouraging higher turnout across all countries rather than targeting swing voters in swing nations and ignoring pre-existing blocs where they feel they have minimal chance of gaining votes.

Obviously reforming Eurovision’s voting system is not integral to the introduction of proportional representation across the UK, however; effective democracy should not only exist in the political sphere but be integrated and integral to all areas of society.

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