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preference for STV (Power to the People: the Report of an Independent Inquiry
into Britain™s Democracy (2006), pp 189“92).
STV is based on large, multi-member constituencies. If this system were to
be introduced in the United Kingdom it is likely that most constituencies would
have three, four, ¬ve or six members, with the ¬ve-member constituency of
about 300,000 voters as the norm. The voter indicates an order of preference
among the candidates named on the ballot paper. A quota for each constituency
is calculated once the total number of votes cast is known: the constituency
quota is the minimum number of votes a candidate needs to win a seat (eg in a
two-member constituency, the quota would be one vote over 33.33 per cent of
522 British Government and the Constitution

the votes cast). The following is a concise explanation of this system (taken from
the Plant Report, Democracy, Representation and Elections (1991), p 8):

Single Transferable Vote: The system and methods of calculation involved are complex; but put
simply, voters have to list candidates in order of preference, and candidates have to reach a
quota in order to be elected. If a candidate passes this quota, any votes for that candidate in
˜excess™ of the quota are redistributed according to second preferences. If no candidate reaches
the quota, the lowest placed candidate drops out and his/her second preferences are trans-
ferred. This process continues down the order until the required number of candidates has been
elected “ bringing in third, fourth and possibly even ¬fth preferences, if necessary. The more
seats per constituency, the more proportional the overall result is likely to be.

Various methods may be used for transferring surplus votes in accordance
with voters™ preferences. (For a full account of the system see, eg, V Bogdanor,
What is Proportional Representation? (1984), ch 5; D Farrell, Electoral Systems
(2001), ch 6.)
STV achieves a high level of proportionality between the votes cast for each
party and the parliamentary seats which each party receives. STV also increases
the power of the voter in that he or she can express a preference between can-
didates who are members of the same party: in this respect a general election
also functions as a primary election of those who will be a party™s representa-
tives in the legislature. The voter can also choose to vote across party lines,
giving his or her preferences to candidates, of whatever party, who support
a particular cause that he or she favours. The adoption of the system could
result in the election of more women and members of ethnic minorities to
Some of the merits claimed for STV are speculative in a UK context. The
Hansard Society Commission on Electoral Reform in its 1976 Report noted that
the system has never been used in a country with a population as large as that
of Britain. The Report also said (para 106) that it was uncertain to what extent
voters would be able to discriminate between candidates of the same party by
reference to their political standpoints: ˜The selection of candidates will still be
made by the political parties, and certainly in Ireland there is no conscious
attempt to produce a slate of candidates across the political spectrum within a
party™. STV could have a ˜localising™ e¬ect on politics and the behaviour of MPs,
who would be at risk of displacement by candidates of their own parties and
liable to be unseated as a result of second preferences recorded by voters of other
parties. The e¬ect might be to weaken the role of parties in the political system.
An alternative form of proportional representation, widely used in Western
Europe and elsewhere, is the list system, which is designed to achieve a repre-
sentation of political parties in proportion to votes cast rather than “ as with
STV “ a fair representation of the decisions of voters, irrespective of their
support for parties. There are several kinds of list system. In some varieties, each
party presents regional or local lists of its candidates, placed in an order of the
523 Parties, groups and the people

party™s preference, to electors in multi-member constituencies. Votes are cast
for parties and seats are distributed between the parties in proportion to their
shares of the votes, a party™s seats being allotted to its candidates in the listed
order. This ˜closed list™ system gives an in¬‚uential role to the party leadership
which draws up the lists, the voter having no power to modify the party™s rank
order of candidates. The Power Report (above) comments that closed party lists
˜o¬er party leaderships just the type of top-down power which is proving so
alienating to active members of society who might otherwise join or support a
party™ (p 192). (On the other hand a party may make its own arrangements to
enable its members to determine the ranking of party candidates on its lists.) In
the more ¬‚exible ˜open list™ systems the voter may express a preference between
candidates on the party list, so that the party™s order of preference can be varied.
There are several di¬erent procedures for allocating seats to the parties in
proportion to the votes cast for them.
Pure list systems have not been much favoured by those campaigning for pro-
portional representation in the United Kingdom. A closed regional list system
was, however, the Government™s chosen method to replace FPTP for elections
in Great Britain to the European Parliament and was brought into e¬ect by
the European Parliamentary Elections Act 1999. (See now the consolidating
European Parliamentary Elections Act 2002 as amended.) There are eleven elec-
toral regions in Great Britain, each region returning a number of MEPs related
to the size of the regional electorate (ranging in the 2004 election from three
MEPs for North East England to ten MEPs for South East England). The voter
in a region casts his or her vote for one of the ¬xed party lists presented by the
competing parties or alternatively for an independent candidate standing in the
region. (Northern Ireland constitutes a twelfth region, in which STV is the elec-
toral system used.)
The additional member system (AMS) is a mixed system which combines one
or other version of the list system with a majoritarian system (such as the ˜alter-
native vote™, below) or with FPTP. Each voter has two votes, one to be cast for a
constituency candidate and the other for a party list. The disproportionality
resulting from the election of the constituency members is corrected by the allo-
cation of additional members from the party lists. (For the operation of this
system in elections to the German lower house (the Bundestag), see Je¬ery,
˜Electoral reform: learning from Germany™ (1998) 69 Political Quarterly 241.)
The additional member system has been adopted for elections to the Scottish
Parliament, the Welsh Assembly and the Greater London Assembly (see
chapter 4). The resulting ˜role di¬erentiation™ between elected members in
Scotland and Wales is considered by Lundberg, ˜Second-class representatives?
Mixed-member proportional representation in Britain™ (2006) 59 Parliamentary
A¬airs 60. A newly fashioned version of AMS was recommended for UK parlia-
mentary elections by the Jenkins Commission (see below).
A system which does not necessarily ensure proportional representation but
allows more voters to in¬‚uence the result than does FPTP, is the alternative vote
524 British Government and the Constitution

system (AV) (used for elections to the Australian House of Representatives).
This system requires the winning candidate to have received more than half of
the votes cast. Voters in single-member constituencies list the candidates in
order of preference: if no candidate gets an overall majority of ¬rst-preference
votes, the candidate with fewest ¬rst-preference votes is eliminated and his or
her supporters™ second-preference votes are redistributed among the remaining
candidates. A candidate who then achieves over 50 per cent of the votes is
elected; otherwise the process is repeated until a candidate obtains an overall
majority. The system may be seen as fairer than FPTP in that a candidate must
secure an absolute majority of votes to win the seat and it allows a wider choice
to voters, with fewer ˜wasted™ votes. The Labour Party™s Working Party on
Electoral Systems recommended a variant of AV “ the supplementary vote
system “ for elections to the House of Commons (Plant Report (1993)): it has
been adopted for the election of the mayor of London and for local authority
mayoral elections in England and Wales.
See further P Cowley et al, What We Already Know: Lessons on Voting Reform
from Britain™s First PR Elections (2001); Farrell, ˜The United Kingdom comes
of age: the British electoral reform “revolution” of the 1990s™ in M Shugart and
M Wattenberg (eds), Mixed-Member Electoral Systems (2001).

(ii) The Jenkins Report
Before the 1997 general election a joint consultative committee of the Labour
and Liberal Democrat Parties agreed that a commission on voting systems
should be appointed early in the new Parliament to recommend an appropriate
proportional alternative to ¬rst past the post. The choice between the recom-
mended option and FPTP was then to be submitted to a referendum.
An Independent Commission on the Voting System under the chairmanship
of Lord Jenkins of Hillhead was appointed by the Labour Prime Minister,
Mr Blair, in December 1997. The Commission™s terms of reference were as

The Commission shall be free to consider and recommend any appropriate system or com-
bination of systems in recommending an alternative to the present system for Parliamentary
elections to be put before the people in the Government™s referendum.
The Commission shall observe the requirement for broad proportionality, the need for
stable government, an extension of voter choice and the maintenance of a link between MPs
and geographical constituencies.

The Report of the Jenkins Commission was published eleven months later
(Cm 4090-I/1998). The Commission examined the merits and de¬ciencies of
¬rst past the post and, although not required by their terms of reference to come
to a view as to whether FPTP should be retained or replaced, were evidently scep-
tical about the advantages claimed for it. The Commission went on to consider
what alternative system to recommend. They were impressed by the case for STV,
525 Parties, groups and the people

especially in its maximisation of voter choice, but were dissuaded from recom-
mending it on the grounds that it was inherently complex, was confusingly
di¬erent from the systems to be used for the European elections, the Scottish
Parliament, the Welsh Assembly and the London Assembly, and was di¬cult
to reconcile with the maintenance of a link between MPs and geographical
In the result the Commission decided to recommend a mixed system. While
rejecting the AV system on its own as not achieving greater proportionality than
FPTP and capable of producing substantially unfair results, the Commission
concluded that these demerits could be overcome in an additional member
system which it described as ˜AV with Top-up Members™ (also known as
˜AV-plus™). This system, they said, while resembling the German mixed system
(see above):

stems essentially from the British constituency tradition and proceeds by limited modifica-
tion to render it less haphazard, less unfair to minority parties, and less nationally divisive
in the sense of avoiding large areas of electoral desert for each of the two major parties.

The recommended system was described as follows.

110. The essence of the system is that the elector would have the opportunity to cast two
votes, the first for his choice of constituency MP, the second for an additional or Top-up
member who would be elected for the specific and primary purpose of correcting the
disproportionality left by the constituency outcomes, and could thus be crucial to determin-
ing the political colour of the next government. The second vote can be cast either for indi-
viduals or (as in Germany) for a party list without regard to the individuals on it. For reasons
we develop in paragraphs 137“9 we greatly prefer an ˜open list™, giving the voter the ability
to discriminate between individuals, to a closed party list. The counting of the second votes
must be done in such a way that the central purpose of the ˜Top-up™, which is leverage
towards proportionality, is maintained. This means that account must be taken, not only of
how many second votes a party has received, but also of how many constituency seats in
the area it has already won. The allocation of Top-up seats would proceed as follows:

(i) After the total number of second votes cast for each party have been counted, these
numbers are then divided for each party by the number of constituencies gained in the
Top-up area by that party plus one (adding one avoids the impossibility of dividing by
zero and ensures that the party with the highest ratio of votes to seats receives the
Top-up seat.)
(ii) A Top-up member is then allocated to the party with the highest adjusted number of
(iii) Where there remains a further Top-up member to be allocated this process is repeated
but taking into account any Top-up members already gained by each party.

Parties should not be eligible for Top-up seats unless they have contested at least 50% of
the constituencies in the Top-up area.
526 British Government and the Constitution

The Commission were satis¬ed that a substantial and su¬cient degree of
proportionality could be obtained for the country as a whole with a top-up of
list members of 15 to 20 per cent. (A 50 per cent top-up as in Germany would
have weakened the constituency link and have made coalitions ˜if not inevitable
very much the norm™.) The lists, put forward by the parties in eighty areas of the
United Kingdom, would be open, allowing voters to choose between voting
for a party or for an individual candidate in the party lists. The majority of
MPs “ 80 to 85 per cent “ would be elected on an individual constituency basis
by the alternative vote. It has since been concluded by two researchers for the
Commission that the system as proposed would be unlikely to achieve broad
proportionality and that at least 25 per cent top-up seats would be needed
(Dunleavy and Margetts, ˜The impact of UK electoral systems™ (2005) 58
Parliamentary A¬airs 854, 864).
The Commission saw their recommended system as best reconciling the four
requirements of their terms of reference with their view of fairness, ˜both of rep-
resentation and of proportionality of power™. In a note of reservation one
Commissioner, Lord Alexander, favoured FPTP rather than AV in an additional
member or top-up scheme, observing that AV could operate haphazardly and
was illogical in taking account of the second preferences only of voters who
supported the least successful candidates.
The Commission believed that their system would minimise ˜the prospect of
constant coalition™, but it has been countered that nine of the previous fourteen
general elections would have resulted in a coalition if held under the Jenkins AV
with Top-up scheme (Pinto-Duschinsky, The Times, 29 October 1998).
The Government undertook to consult the electorate in a referendum pre-
senting voters with a clear choice between FPTP and ˜and an alternative, drawn
from the recommendations of the [Jenkins] Commission™ (HC Deb vol 313,
col 190, 2 June 1998). Legislation would be needed to provide for the holding
of such a referendum, but is not immediately in prospect. The Government
appears to favour a pure AV system, to be put to the voters as an alternative to
FPTP in any forthcoming referendum. Meanwhile it ˜remains committed to
reviewing the experience of the new electoral systems™. The Jenkins plan, it has
been said, has ˜withered on the vine™ (Peter Riddell, Parliament under Blair
(2000), p 114).

(d) The mandate
˜For responsible government to exist some control must be exercisable by the
electorate over the actions of government™ (Jack Lively, Democracy (1975),
p 42). Do elections provide a means of such control? Are governments bound,
in accordance with a ˜doctrine of the mandate™, to carry out policies which have
received the endorsement of the electorate?
In a system of representative government the question of the mandate
becomes a question of the nature of representation. Our constitution does not
527 Parties, groups and the people

embody any one theory of representation, but is not amenable to the notion
that a parliamentary representative is a delegate of the electors and bound to
act in accordance with their instructions. The words of Edmund Burke are
often invoked, in his speech to the electors of Bristol in 1774 (Works vol III
(new edn 1826), pp 19“20):

But authoritative instructions; mandates issued, which the member is bound blindly and
implicitly to obey, to vote, and to argue for, though contrary to the clearest conviction of his
judgment and conscience, “ these are things utterly unknown to the laws of this land, and
which arise from a fundamental mistake of the whole order and tenor of our constitution.

LS Amery expressed a similar idea in a more recent time in saying that our
system is one of ˜government of the people, for the people, with, but not by, the
people™ (Thoughts on the Constitution (2nd edn 1964), pp 20“1), and the
Kilbrandon Commission declared that politicians ˜are elected to use their own
judgement on behalf of the people™ (Cmnd 5460/1973, para 1236). Members of
Parliament do not regard themselves as delegates with speci¬c commissions
from the voters who elected them or from local party organisations. The
Committee of Privileges of the House of Commons repeatedly a¬rmed the


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