Democracy - The Missing Element

This is an excellent contribution to the electoral reform debate, particularly at a time when there is widespread but wholly erroneous view that there is a sort of gentle upward path from First-past-the-post to the nirvana of the Single Transferable Vote, with any of the stopping places en route being worthwhile. Not so. There are three "families" of voting systems - single member, list and preferential. However they are dressed up and spun, neither the first not the second is worth having. Only a preferential system, such a STV, in which the voter creates his or her own list can match accountability with proportionality and resolve the democratic dilemma.

The present parliamentary crisis has led to panic measures on the part of the party leaders. Gordon Brown is said to favour a referendum on general election polling day with a choice between FPTP and "Alternative Vote Plus", and David Cameron has espoused open primaries to select Conservative candidates. The call from many voters is to be able to vote against their MPs but not against their parties; AV+ would make matters worse as it could well happen that an MP defeated in the constituency ballot was elected in the "plus" section. David Cameron's veneer of openness makes party membership even less meaningful - and, of course, STV does the job better, enabling the voters to choose between a number of nominated party candidates.

This book contains pro-STV essays by ten different authors who each tackle a different aspect of the case. There is also a well-informed introduction by Charles Kennedy. Arguably the most interesting contribution is that from Donald Gorrie who tells in detail how Scotland ended up with Additional Member System for its parliament but opted for STV for its local elections.

I need to end with a confession. I was asked to contribute to this book but declined to do so on the grounds that I believe that DAGGER has served its time as a pro-STV pressure group within the Liberal Democrats and needs to be replaced by a different and more broadly based body - which now exists. I didn't like offending my very long time friend Joan Davies but, alas, in politics sometimes needs must. However, I'm delighted that she and John Holman have managed to produce this excellent set of essays without me!

21 October 2009