Against the Jenkins report.

To home page.

H G Wells

Links to sections:

(1) Basics Of Voting Method Applied To The 1998 Jenkins Commission's Terms Of Reference.

(2) Consequences Of The Jenkins Commission's Wrecking Reform Of The Logic Of Choice:

Basics of voting method applied to the 1998 Jenkins Commission's terms of reference.

To top

A public debate about voting method requires some knowledge of its basics. Single choice X-votes elect a single member majority. This is Britain's current system, the most limited possible choice. A preference vote is ordered choice ( lst, 2nd, 3rd, etc. ) of many members' majorities: from one member on over half the votes, to two members on relative majorities of over one-third the votes each ( for a proportional representation of two-thirds the votes ); to three members on over one quarter the votes each ( for a PR of three-quarters the votes ) and so on.

This transferable voting system is a generalisation of choice, consistently with regard to both the vote and the count. A single member X-vote for a single member majority is generalised or rationalised to a multi-member preference vote for a multi-member majority. This makes STV the general system of choice. Failure to follow this general purpose system accounts for the UK's electoral anarchy by 1998.

Only electoral principle can enhance the Independent Commission's terms of reference ( numbered below 1 to 4 ) with respect to each other. As the system of general choice, STV (1) 'extends voter choice' and is also the means to more (2) 'stable government'. Because, STV works like a primary to settle internal party disputes, by preferring candidates within a party, and also as a coalition-decider ( not only within but ) across parties, in extending preferences to different parties' candidates.

Frank Baigel ( from Manchester, letter to The Independent, 3 Nov. 1998 ) said much the same about STV. He went on: Voters would then be determining the trend they wish to follow. Is this too much for British politicians to contemplate?

STV's multi-member constituencies averaging four or five MPs ( for four-fifths or five-sixths PR ) would be (3) 'broadly proportional'. Yet most would be smaller in area than the Commons historic shires.
Andrew Mackay ( from London, letter to The Independent, 31 Oct. 1998 said: The 'historic' link between the MP and the constituents exists only in the minds of MPs elected under the current system.

As Winston Churchill said best of (4) 'MPs links to constituencies': I would rather be one-fifth of the Members for the whole of Leeds than one Member for a fifth of Leeds.

A few self-contained sparsely populated UK areas ( notably Orkney and Shetlands and the Western Isles ) probably would want their own single member constituencies and parts of the Highlands perhaps only double member constituencies. ( Tho, an Irish referendum, that kept STV, voted against single members even in their least inhabited areas. )

There was never any need for the Voting Commission to juggle its four terms of reference against each other. They complement each other as guidelines for democratic voting. The letter from Vernon Bogdanor ( see vol. II of the Commission report, 'Key Evidence'. The Stationary Office. ) is perhaps the best summary case, but by no means the only important case, that the terms of reference are best fulfilled by STV.

To get the terms of reference at odds, the Commission invented a system that got the basics of voting method at odds.

(2) Consequences of the Jenkins Commission's wrecking reform of the logic of choice.

To top

Like all Additional Member Systems ( AMS ), the Voting Commission's reform is a case of two wrongs don't make a right. The first part of their mixed system, the Alternative Vote ( AV ) fails, in using a many-member ( preference ) vote for only one-member majority constituencies. Conversely, the second part fails by using a one-member vote ( with an X ) for a many-member ( proportional ) count.

The Alternative Vote ( indeed single member systems ) Waste First Preferences.

AV ensures most first preferences will not count, as voters monopolised by single members cannot be proportionally or equally represented. Whereas, the single transferable vote ensures most first preferences do count. Candidates elected, with more votes than the quota or required proportion, have that surplus vote preferentially transfered. This will help elect the first preferences of other voters in a multi-member constituency.

These surplus votes, from the most popular candidates, helping to elect other voters' first preferences may be called 'the best votes for the best candidates.' This is in logical contrast to Churchill's description of AV as 'the worst votes for the worst candidates.' Because, in contrast to STV, the result depends on the re-distribution of votes for candidates with least first preferences.

In a single member constituency, there can be only one winner. There may be little more than chance in which candidates have the second or third most first preferences.
As Lord Alexander's example, in his note to the Jenkins report, shows: if a Liberal comes third, his re-distributed votes' second preferences could help elect a Conservative. If Labour came third, those voters' second preferences could help elect the Liberal.

Alexander's wanting first past the post is a counsel of despair. X-voting, split between several candidates for one seat, minimises the number of first preferences elected. Indeed, unlike AV, you don't even know X-votes are first preferences or tactical votings' lesser preferences.

The majority attitude of the Commission was:

There is nothing morally wrong about either informal tactical voting or the formalisation of alternative choices under AV. In many situations of life a decision has to be made in favour of a second or third best choice and there is no inherent reason why what has often to be applied to jobs, houses, even husbands and wives should be regarded as illegitimate when it comes to voting.

( The Guardian, Oct. 30 1998, P.VII, section: Tactical Voting. References to the Jenkins report are from the Guardian edition of vol.I unless otherwise stated.)

One journalist regarded Jenkins' notorious claim as hardly flattering to his wife. Analogies apart, it is certainly morally wrong to make many people do with AV's chancy results from second or third or lesser preferences, when STV could elect most first preferences.

The Top-Up Vote Counts For Party Oligarchy.

Instead of recommending STV, the Commission tried to lumber Britain with a two-in-one voting system, for general elections, to try to partly correct the disproportionate AV. An X-vote is given for a choice of party lists, or mini-lists, in this case. The 'party votes' are counted for the parties' proportional share of seats. Party list systems give the exclusive right, to any proportional representation, to parties. PR becomes a euphemism for proportional partisanship. It is like saying: All voters are equal but party stalwarts are more equal than others.

Whereas, STV gives all groups and personal attributes in society equal rights to representation for a truly 'fair' and stable constitution settlement.
Privilege enshrined in a party-proportional count is a source of endless human rights conflict, weakening society, also faced with serious environmental problems of its own making.

'Flexibility', A Polite Term For Manipulation

To top.

Not only does the Voting Commission's system needlessly set the parties against the people, it also sets the parties against each other, by failing to settle the rules of the electoral game.

The Jenkins report is pleased to call the use of different proportions of additional members 'flexibility' ( p.V, Advantages of a mixed system, first two and last paragraphs ) to 'strike such a balance as best to reconcile the four terms of reference'.
The Commission doesn't explain why each elected institution, using or in prospect of using AMS, has to strike a different balance.

The 'admirable' Plant report would say that 'executive' bodies need more of majority government to push thru decisions. 'Legislative' bodies can be more proportional to reflect the composition of their constituents.
The dogmatic partisan believes that effective government is dictatorial, albeit a dictatorship of the largest faction. Allowing more parties into a body causes a greater conflict of wills that makes less able to act.

But this need only be true in so far as such a legislature is a conclave of closed minds. Only then can it be treated as a talking shop to advise but not have much power. That happens when proportional representation is tacitly reduced to the proportional partisanship of party list systems, which rigidly divide or imprison MPs on party lines. In truth, we and our representatives are individuals with policies more or less in common across the national spectrum of opinion.

The different executive-legislative balance of different elected institutions is a bogus argument of dogmatic partisans but it does serve their outlook of dominate or be dominated, to have an alibi of 'flexibility' for manipulating the proportion of additional members, as will best suit a given party's or coalition's prospects of power.

The Commission's vacillation between 15% and 20% of parliamentary seats to lend proportion between the parties, may not seem like much, but it is crucial enough to cause quite a political scrum. 5% can mean the difference between 33 small-time politicians getting jobs and 33 incumbents being turfed out. A dent of 66 MPs in a parliamentary majority is likely to be of more than academic interest to party leaders, especially on top of a 15% erosion of first past the post landslide victories.

In a sound-bite from one Commission member, David Lipsey intimated that one thing they didn't want was perpetual coalition. ( Never mind what the public wants. ) The voters were to be taken in hand by the nanny state.

The Jenkins report talks of reform 'without imposing a coalition habit on the country'. The British people are to be saved from themselves -- but not saved from being imposed on by the Commission's devices. The public's bad habit of rarely giving one party a majority of votes would be beaten enough by their system to ensure one party will often enough get a majority of seats, anyway.

And the constitution still would face destabilising power politics between the parties to change the electoral rules to their advantage. The larger parties want less party proportion ( which was why the 1966 Grand Alliance was formed in West Germany ); the smaller parties want more.

The Jenkins report admits the German additional member system entrenched a small third party in government ( p.VI, Proportionality and stable government ). Such a small minority can serve as a kingmaker in its choice of coalition partner. Instead of avoiding the German system of small minority kingmaker, the commission compounds it with the British system of largest minority rule.

The Jenkins report proposes not so much a system as a wavering between larger or smaller minority parties' excess power.

Cross-Purposes Top-Up Vote For A Party Or Coalition Partner

Additional member systems, like 'Alternative Vote top-up', are too at cross-purposes for voters to clearly prefer a given coalition. Party supporters can't give their party vote to another party, if their own party might need it to get additional members. Thus the top-up vote, as a coalition vote, is the privileged choice of those voters whose party already has an unfairly disproportionate share of safe single member seats in the region.

This privilege is accentuated, the less single member constituencies there are. For, they are then more likely to fall to the largest party. So, the party disproportions increase, even as single members make way for more additional or top-up members to 'correct' them.
In short, AMS is unstable.

Thus coalition choice with AMS is a more or less small minority privilege, not the democratic choice of coalition, which is supposed to be the point of the exercise ( and which STV does give ).

'Coalition' Top-Up Vote As Tactical Vote Against Least Liked Party's Proportional Entitlement.

To top

Having vaunted this privilege of split-party voting, the commission is then at pains to play down how it might be abused. ( p.VII, Tactical voting ). For example, Labour party strongholds, with no hope of additional members, could vote tactically with their top-up X-vote, for a Liberal Democrat to deny Conservatives party-proportional entitlement to an extra seat in the area. Conversely, Conservative strongholds could vote for a Liberal to deny Labour a top-up seat.

Minority Party Top-Up Vote As A Wasted Vote

Liberal Democrat voters themselves wouldn't be able to elect their man in 30 of the 78 mainland regions designated by the Jenkins report. ( Source: John Curtice, Deputy director of the ESRC Centre for Research into Elections and Social Trends, The Independent, 30 Oct. 1998. )
For those Lib Dems, the top-up vote would be a wasted vote. To have an effect on the result, those would-be Lib Dems would have to consider voting Conservative or Labour.

Top-Up Votes For Rival Parties' Worst List Candidates ( After Sabotage Of American Open Primaries ).

Where there were two top-up Liberal candidates or more ( and the report recommends an extra to cover a parliamentary vacancy ) a strong party in the region, Labour or Conservative voters, could deliberately choose the worst Liberal. So, the main rivals could regionally do each other down as parties, while doing down the personnel of the third party.

Party animosity is not to be underestimated. To damage their opponents, party rivals did their worst in American primaries, till they had to be closed to the general public. ( STV overcomes this problem.)

The Commission regarded open lists as essential to fulfill the requirement of extending voter choice. ( Role of top-up members p.VI, col. 8, 6th para. from end of section.) But the same motives that forced shut American primaries, will work to effectively close the top-up lists.

This charade, this 'AV top-up' mix-up is tactical voting's reduction to the absurd.

'Freedom' -- In A Prison Regime

To top.

Party list systems deny all voters the right to choose individual candidates, without that choice being usable, regardless of one's wishes, to elect another candidate, merely because in the same party. Far from extending voter choice, this hijacks it for the parties.

Moreover, this prevents individual preference expressing a measure of cross-party unity. List systems are a proportional count only of party divisions. This party-privileged count excludes all other social groups or attributes from equal treatment.

For these reasons -- denial of individual choice, denial of social equality, and denial of national unity -- no party list system should be used in a democracy.

Perhaps to counter-act this standard criticism, the section on the role of top-up members, states that it offers 'freedom' -- three times in the last five paragraphs, so we may be duly impressed.
This 'freedom' is explained in terms of 'two rights; first to bolt the party ticket completely with his or her second vote' for ( fourth mention of freedom ) 'freeing the voter from the prison of having to suffer an unwanted candidate for the constituency in order to get a desired government.'

'Second...that the voter should be able to discriminate between the candidates put forward for the list by the party for which he or she wishes to cast the second vote.' The commission would have us believe freedom to be parole and probation from a prison regime:
The second vote for a coalition partner puts voters on parole not to tactically outweigh their most disliked party's proportional entitlement to a top-up MP. But a promise of good voting behavior cannot be guaranteed by a badly behaved system that makes 'offenders' of the voters.

The commission gives the so-called right to choose between candidates on a party mini-list, so party voters don't have to put up with an MP they don't approve of. But this probation system is phoney, because list systems cannot prove the vote you give to a party candidate will not go to elect another in the same party.

In fact, the vote for a party ( 'to bolt the party ticket' ) assumes your individual choice may be disregarded, imprisoning the voters in party cells. The right to individual freedom does not deny partisan voting. But counting everyone a party voter denies individual freedom.

Expedience Over Principle

To top.

Ian Campbell ( of Dyfed, in a 31 Oct. 1998 letter to The Independent ) said:

If this report is adopted we face a future of more of the same, but made more confused and chaotic by compromise and cowardice. Lord Jenkins is far too clever and not at all wise.

Another correspondent said, previously:

It will be particularly interesting to watch the ingenuities of the politicians in the new Parliament in producing schemes that will look like electoral reform and yet leave the profession still active for mischief. They will fight desperately against large constituencies with numerous members. The one member or two-member constituency is absolutely necessary to their party system. In such constituencies even proportional representation can be reduced to a farce. And also they will offer cheap but attractive substitutes like the second ballot and the alternative vote. And they will fake extraordinary arrangements by which the voter will vote not for an individual but for a ticket or bunch, and they will call these fakes this or that improved variety of 'proportional representation'. All the political parties in Britain are at present trying to work out the probable effects of this or that fake or cheap substitute for electoral honesty, upon the party prospects. In this matter the Labour Party is as bad as any other party - or worse. The discussion of electoral legislation in ... Parliament throughout the next session, though it may make the angels weep, is certain to afford much entertainment to every mundane observer of human disingenuousness.

Is that quote a prophesy in the letters of The Independent about the Jenkins report?
No, The Westminster Gazette, in 1923, from H G Wells ( re-printed in 'A Year Of Prophesying' ).

The commission's reform is 'a dog's breakfast'. The report opened on its job: to recommend the best alternative 'system or combination of systems'. But, at the report's launch, the chairman said, he made no bones about it, that the commission was influenced by what system they thought could be passed. That isn't the role of an independent commission, which was to serve truth not power.

While the report pretends to search for the best reform, it was really working under an enfeebling secret agenda of pre-conceived notions about what was acceptable to the powers that be. This was sanctioned neither by the government's terms nor by public opinion.

By not being open or honest in their report about what systems the commission thought parliament (or people) would or would not accept, the report has effectively conspired against principle for expedience.

Hence, their arguments -- feeble in the extreme -- against the original system of proportional representation, the single transferable vote. These are discussed next.

Adam Smith

(3) The Jenkins Commission's case against the single transferable vote.

Politician and historian Roy Jenkins' 30,000 word report has an introduction one journalist described as 'delightful' but 'irrelevant'. Not till over half way thru, do we come to the two decisive sections that reject STV. As the document says ( in the succeeding section on the case for a mixed system ) 'If we do not go in an STV direction the alternative must be a variant of the Additional Member System.'

So, let us examine the commission's arguments to eliminate STV:

Constituencies 'too big' for representation in Britain -- but not America!

The Jenkins report repeats the Plant report that British STV multi-member constituencies would be too big at four or five times the size of Irish STV constituencies. ( Australia is later dismissed for comparison as being 'barely a quarter' of Britain's population. ) But STV, in Britain, would average four or five member constituencies that were no bigger than American, or Indian, single member constituencies. Therefore, the Plant and Jenkins reports imply representative democracy impossible in countries bigger than Britain.

This foremost argument against STV is clearly irrational prejudice. Indeed, if this nonsense were taken seriously, democracy would be ruled out on any considerable scale. Therefore, it is the Plant and Jenkins reports which must be rejected, instead.
The report's level of argument does not improve.

STV Ballot Paper 'Too Long' For Britain -- But Not Ireland!

To top.

The commission goes on that STV constituencies of 350,000 electors would have a very long ballot paper and a degree of choice 'that might be deemed oppressive rather than liberating.'
In fact, the more choices voters enter, the marginally more proportional the result -- freedom and equality really do go together. Not thinking so, the commission's own system is rather short on both.

The political prudes on the commission reverse STV's electoral license with a vengeance. Their system's second vote ( with an X ) gives one choice for one ( or less often two ) party seats over a typical eight ( up to twelve ) member constituency area.
Whereas their combined system's first part confines a preference vote to single member constituencies, where its ordered choice for many members cannot take effect.

These monopolies are oppressive rather than liberating. There are British safe seats held by one party longer than the Communists monopolised their Soviet empire. It's time this electoral wheel was for turning.

Moreover, preference voters do not have to number-order all the candidates, only as many as are prefered. It is for the voters to decide -- not the Jenkins commission to presume -- how many candidates deserve a ranking.

The report adds: 'many are interested only in voting for parties, and would not appreciate being forced into choosing between candidates of the same party about each of whom they know little.' -- Roy Jenkins and Michael Foot, for instance.

It misrepresents STV that alleged knee-jerk partisans have to choose, where there is such a choice. They need only prefer candidates with their party label, as few or as many as they like.
We don't have to accept the contradiction in terms that people have to be 'forced' into freedom of choice, nor does STV do so.

Reducing Spoilt Papers

The report vaguely says the Irish 'have a somewhat but not vastly higher proportion of spoilt papers than in Britain.'
From this it may be gathered that the figures are not high.
But, in 1998, the Irish government decided to use photos for candidates, to help voters with literacy problems.
Leo Amery introduced STV to Malta, in 1923, with 90% illiteracy.

The 1998 Human Development report estimated more than 20% of British people functionally illiterate. But the Irish have to learn perhaps the two most irrationally ( speech- ) spelt languages in the world: English and Gaelic. ( A rational English alphabet for shorthand purposes is also a democratic cause. )

Increasing PR And Turnout

The report self-caricatures its bias in writing of 'the Irish tradition of almost excessively high voting.' And seizes on recent Irish turnout being slightly lower than Britain's.
( After-note 2002: In 2001, the UK general election turn-out fell from 71% to 59%. )

One factor worth noting is that over the decades, the number of members per constituency has been whittled down, by the largest party to get more than its fair share of seats. This would also tend to shut out voters not in the political mainstream. A new party may do well for a while. But that doesn't address the problem of giving marginal interests a chance of representation, in only three or four seats constituencies. Going back to more proportional representation, with more seats per constituency might encourage the extra votes that would make up very high turnouts.

What They Don't Tell You About 'Complicated' Counts

To top.

The Jenkins report makes stock complaint, never justified, that the STV count is 'excessively complicated'. Not a shred of evidence, only innuendo, follows from the two paragraphs beginning 'The counting is incontestably opaque ... '

The single transferable vote is counted by the 'Droop quota', which simply extends single majorities of over half the votes, to multi-majorities: two members winning over one-third the votes each; three members winning over one-quarter the votes each, and so on.

Compare that explanation with any of the innumerable 'divisor' counts used in party list systems -- or worse still, additional list systems -- with their genius for division. ( Even the Droop quota becomes 'opaque' when used for party list counting. )

Compare the Droop quota count, above, as used for transferable voting, with, for instance, the Jenkins report's truly 'opaque' explanation of their party-proportional count. ( The Guardian pull-out: Advantages of a mixed system. p.V, col.8)

Of course, what critics of STV's complexity are getting at is that the proportional count is complicated by the ( 'Senatorial' ) rules of transferable voting to elect candidates in the popular order. It is so much simpler to leave a few party bosses to order the candidates' election, than let forty-odd million voters do it for them.

But as soon as you try to make list systems less oligarchic, by allowing the voters an element of individual choice, or move from closed lists to open lists, they produce anomalous results, from their lack of principle ( namely, lack of freely transferable voting ).

Such are the double standards in counting that unfairly favor oligarchy to democracy.

A Different System Only Becomes A Disadvantage When It's STV

Next, the report claims 'STV suffers from the accidental disadvantage that it is a different system' except in Northern Ireland, where used for three levels of government -- which is more than the commission's 'AV top-up' will ever be used for. Even the inventors of this hybrid system would have to admit it is of limited use.
The Jenkins commission must subscribe to the Plant committee's belief in different systems for different institutions.
Then why should it be a disadvantage at all, in the Plant-Jenkins way of thinking, that STV is a different system? Could this be unfair discrimination?

The espousers of anarchy in electoral method make themselves ridiculous by condemning the transferable voting principle as 'too big a leap from that to which we have become used, and it would be a leap in a confusingly different direction from the other electoral changes...' ( Conclusion on STV, p.V, col.7 )

( Amusingly, a Guardian caption writer gave the game away, by re-writing the Jenkins report as saying: 'Why STV is too big a leap forward.' My italics. )

With what amounts to self-condemnation for burdening Britain with a new system, the report goes on:

There is nonetheless an obvious disadvantage to burdening large parts of the voting public with getting used to several new systems within a short time-scale. It is also an odd quirk of STV that it has never been tried in a country which has not within this century been subject to British rule.

All we needed was the Jenkins commission to put right in nine months what it took nearly one and a half centuries of the English-speaking traditions of democratic voting reform to evolve. Quite a put-down for STV's long-term and widespread use. In comparison, how can one dismiss strongly enough the novice AV top-up system?

Now we know what electoral reformers from John Stuart Mill to Enid Lakeman are: 'an odd quirk'.
So were the likes of John Milton and Daniel Defoe ( to name literary figures ) 'odd quirks' from fashionable absolute monarchies.

The Fashion In Party Absolutism.

To top.

The overwhelming feeling of reform and anti-reform witnesses alike was against more power to party machines. ( About the only new evidence to come out of the abstract first of eight pages to the Guardian edition of the report. ) The report's air of balanced judgment is belied by the non-sequitur: 'it is important not to be carried too far by a fashionable current and to pretend representative democracy can function without parties.'

But the commission has followed the fashion of an X-vote absolutely for a party. This may reinforce tribal schisms of class, race, religion or ethnic group, etc, to which outsiders are less than human abstractions, whose individual character counts for nothing.

STV More Popular With Irish Voters Than Politicians

STV's greater popularity with Irish voters than politicians is damned with faint praise, that inflates the Jenkins report's list of 'counter-balancing disadvantages'. Because, 'it is at least possible that the politicians may be better judges of what conduces to effective government.'

It is also certainly true that one has the right to reject judgment affected by a conflict of interest. From a prime concern with their careers, 'politician' has become a word of abuse.
Democrats don't dispute that the people on top may sometimes know better, which is the irrelevant point the report is making. The question is whether democracy is the best principle, properly applied in the popular system, that really is popular with the people who use it.

STV's popularity rather cancels out the criticism that it is too complicated.
Next, come two more self-cancelling arguments, against STV.

Self-Contradictory Criticism Of STV Not As Too Remote But Too Parochial

To top.

The Jenkins report repeats another Plant report complaint. It turns out that STV creates so much competition between MPs within, as well as between, parties that this system 'so far from producing remote representatives, produces excessively parochial ones.'

The Plant and Jenkins reports try to have it both ways. Jenkins qualifies 'The point, for what it is worth,' because the self-contradiction obviously refutes the other main complaint that STV's multi-member constituencies are too big for MPs to be 'linked' to their constituencies ( as if they were a sort of ball and chain that must not be too heavy for MPs to drag around.)

Irish voters with a grievance apparently have the deplorable trait of trying out all their MPs in turn, 'thereby wasting a good deal of the time of ministers, civil servants, TDs, and indeed of the constituents themselves.'

On an ITV panel debate, Stuart Bell MP grumbled about multi-member constituents being able to 'shop around'. He leads Labour's first past the post campaign, 'implacably opposed' to the commission's AV top-up. Yet the single member system is evidently sacred to both groups, and its removal not a referendum option.

Next time you decide to shop around, don't forget you are wasting the time of several stores' shop-keepers, as well as their managers and clerical staff, and indeed your own.

But shop-keepers have been known to ask customers, have they tried somewhere else, if they cant give satisfaction. Some other MP might be more of a specialist in the constituent's problem ( or more sympathetic. Roy Jenkins later admits half his MP's work came from the rest of the city, his constituency was in.)

STV's Irish MPs, the report leads us to believe, are really only good for council work, rather than the job of statesmen. Strange then that such statesmen never recommend STV for British council elections. Shopping around might just catch on, and then, heaven knows, even British MPs might have to waste their time being severally lobbied by the ordinary man, as well as by organisations paying 'consultation fees' or for a job on the board.

Talking of wasted time between rulers and ruled, Circumlocution Office Barnacles and political Steerforths have been stalling, for over eighty years and counting, against democratic voting method, to keep their party career monopolies in single members and now corporate lists. The British ship of state is a constitutional tub against the political, economic and ecological storms that surely must visit all parts of the world.

That monopolies become virtues, when political ones of single members or lists, is special pleading. Electoral reform is like a re-run of Adam Smith's economic reform by free competition of self-interest, lifting state monopolies on trade. Complementing 'The Wealth Of Nations', 'The Theory Of The Moral Sentiments' dealt with sympathy as the well-spring of human motives.
Likewise, the truly democratic voting system represents unity in diversity -- individual preference expressing a proportional measure of common ground by freely transferable voting.

Making a straw man of the First Speakers Conference

When the Voting Commission speaks of 'these disadvantages of varying orders of seriousness' to STV, they failed to make a single decent objection. But they made free with irrational prejudice, presumption, misrepresentation, contradiction in terms, innuendo, double standards, unfair discrimination, unconscious self-caricature and self-condemnation, damning with faint praise, irrelevance, trying to have it both ways and special pleading.

The section, STV as part of a hybrid system, makes a straw man of the fact that the 1917 Speaker's Conference recommendation, all agreed, for STV, didn't extend to the country and boroughs with less than three seats. Generally, STV's use is not so limited, which would have been to the point.

Discussing this partial STV system served as a tactical ruse to side-line the admittedly compelling case witnesses made for natural borough boundaries. To a lesser extent, this case could have been made for the shires, the other historic Commons constituencies.
For, the country does not starkly divide into rural and urban. Rather, demographic statistics follow a roughly normal ( or binomial ) distribution. On an average of 4 or 5 seats per constituency, the spread would taper off to the odd 8-member urban constituency, on the one hand, to the odd rural area with one seat.

This is what STV reformers propose, a simple amendment to the great Speakers Conference of 1916, working in the midst of the carnage of world war one.

Most of the smallest constituencies, in rural areas, would have at least three members. Rural Labour minorities should have a good chance of picking up one of these, and so not be discriminated against. This removes the Jenkins report's supposed reason against STV -- meaning STV as proposed in 1917.
The Jenkins Commission's objection to STV may be likened to a qualified applicant being sorrowfully rejected on the grounds that his great grandfather was not quite suitable for the job.

Because population distribution is not uniform, the single member system is largely an arbitrary measure, inherently a lack of system. Different boundaries easily change majorities making constituencies subject to destabilizing political pressures.

The report admits the single member system's 'tendency to develop long periods of systemic bias against one or other of the two main parties.'-- to say nothing of others. But it speaks not of removing, only 'the need to address this bias'. ( The defects of FPTP, p.II last col. Also, Number of top up members, P.VII, top of col.7.)

How then is the democratic cause to seek genuine redress, not offered by the biased defenders of a biased system?

Conclusion On The Jenkins Report

Supporters of Additional Members Systems, like Alternative Vote Top-up, confound principles, when ( more or less ) sharing between parties is counted to affirm a partisan monopoly on representation. This inconsistency affords no basis for agreement and settlement between all groups of society, or even between parties themselves.

The Commission sets an amoral ( and rather vague ) marker for a new status quo to be entrenched in the Constitution as a defense for one bias of power against others -- not a clear establishment of ( democratic ) principle. It prepares for a referendum between two kinds of the same wrong: monopolism, naive or confounded with party lists.

Richard Lung.

Postscript (dec. 2009): Behind the scenes.

When I wrote this critique of the Jenkins report, a decade ago, I was innocent of what went on behind the scenes. A few hints, I recently picked-up, enable me to make sense of pieces of the puzzle that didnt fit. So, I can give the reader a better idea now of what actually went on behind the scenes to decide the Jenkins report.

I dont claim to have got it just so, but I can make some of the pieces to the puzzle fit better. Eventually, maybe more will be revealed by insiders. (I did not know of The Ashdown Diaries, volume 2, on which Ive done a separate web-page, after this one.)

Roy Jenkins had already taken part in a Commission held by the Liberal-SDP Alliance, when Jenkins was its leader. And that Commission recommended the Single Transferable Vote, apparently with his approval.
I must admit, I rather discounted Jenkins claim in his 1998 report that he regreted a version of STV was not used. I thought that he was making excuses, because the specific proposals of the 1916 Speakers Conference are not advocated today.

But I have since heard reliable rumors (what British newspapers tactfully call "a source" - actually from the STV-voting email group) that the Jenkins Commission came up with a proposal recognisably like STV/PR. I gather that it is routine for official commissions to sound the government on what they think of their proposals.

The man responsible for setting-up the Independent Commission on Voting Methods was the PM, Tony Blair. And he (a two-party Parliament's closed shop steward) allegedly made it plain that an STV recommendation would go on the top shelf, meaning it would never be seen again.

There is good reason to believe this rumor. When Blair first came to power, he dictated that the Closed List be used for British Euro-elections, where voters only have a choice of party and not of individual Representatives. Whereas the logical choice would have been to extend STV from Ulster Euro-elections to the rest of the UK. The Closed List would not work in Ulster: it would have split the nationalist vote and deprived them of a proportional representation of one of the three seats. So why not give all the people the benefit of STV's "effective voting," as it has been dubbed? It was an unprincipled decision.

Moreover, a Guardian reader told me just before the Jenkins report came out, that the newspaper reported that Tony Blair said he didnt like the single transferable vote.
There may have been a hint from the first sentence Blair spoke, in his first Labour party conference speech as Prime Minister. I cannot remember the exact words but it was to the effect that all that was needed was a cross on the ballot paper to change the government.
I gathered that Blair was hinting to his voting commission that he was not anxious to have a transferable vote.

I am not making a personal case against Blair. He was evidently the creature of a Labour party that was so singularly opposed to STV in its Plant report.

Another straw in the wind, was the curious remark Jenkins made about Blair, after the report was made public. It was the back-handed compliment that Blair was a second-rate intellect but that was better than having a first-rate intellect who was personably deficient, an apparent reference to Gordon Brown.

Those were early days of New Labour, when most people were still impressed by their final electoral triumph and over-rated its leaders accordingly. Jenkins admitted that he should have known better, after all this time, not to make remarks, so easily misconstrued.

If Blair really rejected Jenkins support for STV, one can see why he should judge him as a second-rate intellect - a judgment which would now be regarded as a common-place. I am not concerned with how well Blair was mentally endowed, only with why Jenkins should be driven to make the remark. One could understand Jenkins frustration at being made to look a fool, by having to advocate such an inferior substitute, to STV, as AV Plus, all because that "second-rate intellect" Blair gave him little alternative, if he was to have any reform at all.

If we are to apportion blame, Jenkins must take his share of it. Blair hailed Jenkins as a political hero - he wanted SDP voters back to Labour. And they were no doubt chummy. Jenkins went with a will into putting a good construction on his report's recommendation - far beyond what could be justified.
Then came the reckoning, the dissatisfaction and antipathy in general and the rejection by the Labour party, in particular. So, all his compromising was for nothing, indeed was worse than useless, as the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to make a principled case for reform with STV was wasted.

In his last article, Roy Jenkins said that the only politician he ever loved was Hugh Gaitskell. Thus, a parting lover's slap in the face of an unfaithful partner, his political fellows. The slap would have less sting, if Jenkins had been a less genial character.
Gaitskell is best remembered for reversing his party conference's resolution of unilateral disarmament, with the cry: I will fight, fight and fight again to save the party I love.

I have never come across any reflection on the oddity of this remark, in which a party leader forgets he is first a patriot. This amnesia now looks like a dementia of the two-party system.

By 2009, the unpopularity of the Labour government revived calls, at Cabinet level, for the Jenkins report to be implemented. But Gordon Brown's Party Conference speech offered, instead, the Alternative Vote (another broken voting system) if they won the 2010 general election.
Few believe that: that they could win. And whether they would do, as they say, is anybody's guess.

This 2009 renewal of the call, for the Alternative Vote Plus, confirmed the disbelief that it could be put to a referendum without under-mining confidence in its supporters' competance. The best, they could hope-for, would be to sneak it in, in stages.

Richard Lung.

To top.

To home page