Saturday, February 25, 2006

Lib Dems favour Proportional Voting, don't they?


As astonishing story in The Times this Saturday reveals a large number of outspoken Lib Dem MPs have not exercised their right to pledge a second preference vote for Leader of the Liberal Democrats.

Lib Dems are selecting a replacement to Charles Kennedy, who resigned as Leader in January.


All 75,000 members of the party vote one for their first preferred candidate, two for second and three for third… we call it proportional voting and it’s a rather sacred belief amongst Lib Dems that this form of second transferable voting is a better option to 'first-past-the-post'. The candidate in last place is eliminated and his backers’ second choices are distributed between the remaining two – it results in the most favoured candidate winning the election as determined by the party membership faithful.

The Times writes: For a party whose forebears embraced the cause of proportional representation for the best part of a century, and to whose members the single transferable vote has the status of the Holy Grail, their behaviour is at best inconsistent.


  • Lord Kirkwood, chairman of Sir Menzies’ campaign, admitted: “I only used one preference myself. It is only of interest to anybody if Campbell comes third and I know he will not come third.”
  • Lynne Featherstone, an MP backing Mr Huhne, confessed: “I have not used my second preference on this occasion.”
  • Vince Cable, the Treasury spokesman, said: “I filled it in the day after it came. I honestly can’t remember whether I just went for Ming and not the other two, or voted for Chris [Huhne] second.
  • Jo Swinson, 26, the youngest MP and a Campbell supporter, said hesitantly: “I cannot actually say… I’m fairly sure I voted for Chris Huhne as No 2.”

I have used my votes with Hughes – 1st and Huhne - 2nd. Unlike these honourable members of parliament who seem to support first past the post, I am confident most party members have determined who that wining candidate will be through second preference choices.

But then again the honourable members of the party would not have stabbed Charles Kennedy in the back – and this Leadership election would probably not be taking place at this time.


3 comments:

Joe Taylor said...

I don't think that failing to express a second preference in a single-appointment ballot like this is at all incompatible with a belief in the principle of proportional representation - after all, this is a substantially different type of STV than the one that would be used in the House of Commons. There's only one position, so it's not possible to elect a proportional number of Ming Campbells, Simon Hughes and Chris Huhnes according to the percentage of people that voted for them - the result can never be truly proportianal, but it CAN be fair.

What this type of STV does is stops a candidate winning the election purely by splitting the vote of his opponents - for example, if STV had been used in the 2000 US Presidential election, Gore would have won comfortably.

Not expressing a second preference actually amounts to a partial abstention - which is not an option that is open to you with a FPTP ballot. It states that you don't want to influence the election any further in the event that your first choice finishes last - and that's just as democratic as any other choice, in my view.

Paul Griffiths said...

This post is so wrong-headed I hardly know where to begin. When you are electing one person it hardly makes sense to talk a bout a "proportional" system. What AV and STV have in common is that they are both "preferential" systems. Under these systems, stating a single preference is entirely reasonable. It means: "This is the candidate I want to win; if he or she can't win, I don't care who does." Such a move is even more reasonable in a three-candidate contest if you are completely confident that your choice will not be eliminated in the first round. There is nothing inconsistent about such behaviour.

Tristan said...

Surely its up to the individual to vote how they like?

Even in an multiple representative STV system you can still vote just for one if you like. We use AV in the election because its a fairer system than FPTP, but the choice of the individual in who they vote for, how many preferences they use is paramount. Indeed, they could not vote at all if they wanted.

I see no dilemma here.

What would be odd was if we used FPTP for this election, that would make a nonsense of our support of proportionality (or even worse if we didn't allow all members to have a vote).