I wrote to Michael Gove MP on the issue of electoral reform, and this is what he had to say in response.
Thank you very much for writing.
I would like to think that I am open minded about all proposals to make our electoral system work better. But I have to say that the direct accountability of our current system seems to me to have many advantages. Even though he is not, of course, a Conservative the arguments made by Jack Straw the Foreign Secretary in The Guardian recently seem to me to make a persuasive case for the maintenance of the current system.
Michael Gove MP
This is my response:
Dear Mr. Gove,
Thank you for your reply to my letter of the 6th May.
I am pleased to hear that you're open minded about proposals to make the electoral system better, and am glad that you are supportive of a system which allows direct accountability.
May I venture to suggest that the current system actually inhibits accountability at a national level given that a voter in a marginal seat has much more power than a voter who lives in a safe seat?
If you are referring to Jack Straw's article of the 12th May (available on the Guardian website), it seems that Jack Straw was writing against the use of list-based PR at Westminster. Quite right too, as it would be biased against independents.
As I mentioned in my original letter, AV+ (as proposed by Lord Jenkins) maintains a constituency link, and hence maintains accountability.
Still better than AV+ is the Single Transferable Vote which has no "list based" element at all. This would allow voters to say "I'd prefer A, wouldn't mind B, but would prefer them both to C". This preference is at the level of individuals and not parties. In a stroke this eliminates the need for tactical voting, as people can express their true preference without a need to worry about "splitting the opposition vote". Under a current system it would be possible for an MP who has the support of only 30% of the population to have three "protest" candidates gain 70% between then and still be elected. Under STV, the voters would be able to express preferences between the "protest" candidates without harming the chances of their protest being unheard.
STV would not provide "proportionality" in terms of first choice, but it would give a government which most people can feel engaged with â€“ it would provide a much "better fit" than the existing system. STV is used for the Australian Senate, the Republic of Ireland, and several other governments.
In short, STV is a system which keeps local accountability, can still provide strong government (it is not "proportional") and it allows voters to express preferences between candidates. It is also easy to understand for the voter; they just rank the candidates 1, 2, 3, 4 etcâ€¦
This is electoral reform where strong governments can be formed and where those governments do represent the true preferences of the people.
I would be interested to learn your views on STV, and hope that you will give the issue of electoral reform further consideration â€“ list based PR is not the only alternative to first past the post.
I still await your views upon the second question I raised in my original letter.
The government has formed a sub-committee to look at these issues. The list of names does little to inspire confidence in this humble voter. I hope I'm wrong in my scepticism.
Edit: Above letter modified slightly.