The parliamentary select committee that has been examining the government’s proposals for reform of the House of Lords will be publishing its report in a couple of weeks’ time. Rumour has it that they want an electoral system different from the one proposed by the government. Nick Clegg and colleagues argue that the Single Transferable Vote (STV) form of proportional representation should be used. But the committee has been interested in finding a system that will give voters a choice between voting for individual candidates and for a single party ticket (see the transcript of their oral evidence session last December, when the quizzed Iain McLean and me on this subject). According to the Guardian, the committee is going to recommend the form of STV used in many Australian elections, where voters can vote ‘above the line’ for a party or ‘below the line’ for individual candidates.
The Electoral Reform Society is crying foul over this. Calling the proposals a ‘dog’s breakfast’, they say that STV with above-the-line voting will return power to the parties, rather than allowing voters to determine who gets elected.
What should dispassionate observers make of this? I think three questions need to be considered. First, how much power would the inclusion of a party voting option give to parties and to voters? Second, how much power should parties and voters have in determining which candidates are elected? Third, are there any other considerations that we should take into account before deciding whether we think that possibility of above-the-line voting should be welcomed? Most of this rather lengthy (sorry) post will focus on the first of these questions; I’ll say a little about the other two at the end.