The Every Vote Counts system is simplicity itself. Voters go to the polls and vote for their candidate exactly as they do now. The MP is elected by winning the most number of votes in their constituency exactly as they do now. As far as the voter is concerned they do not have to do anything differently. The ballot papers look the same; the votes are cast in the same way. They get an MP as they do now. What is different is what happens to the votes cast for the candidates that lost.
The votes for losing candidates are not thrown away as now. They are collected across several constituencies, roughly conforming to the County of those constituencies, and these losing votes are counted. The party with the most votes from these losing ballot papers becomes an additional Member of Parliament – a County MP.
To avoid Parliament becoming even more overcrowded, the number of constituency MPs would need to be reduced to make room for the new County MPs and constituency boundaries enlarged accordingly.
County MPs would have exactly the same rights, privileges and responsibilities as constituency MPs. They would become the champions of the minority voices. The Bubble may not be fully burst, but it may now become more diverse, embrace more voters and find that its walls become thinner and transparent. Politics more like it should be.
There is now an incentive to vote for the party you want – less reason to be cynical.
No more temptation to vote tactically; you are free to be brave and vote with your principles. Where now UKIP may come a strong second across the constituencies of Kent yet only win a single seat, they may win the County seat of Kent. Currently, in a constituency where the MP wins with 40% of the vote, the other 60% of votes are wasted. If the second place party consistently received say 30% of the vote, under Every Vote Counts those 30% losing votes are likely to return a County MP. So, instead of 40% of the vote making a difference, under Every Vote Counts, 70% of votes cast make a difference. Our politics will be transformed.
People recognise the names of their counties. This will help voters identify with their region more easily than inventing some new regional construct that is more mathematically perfect in equalising the electorates of these new constituencies.
In terms of detail, the redistribution between the number of constituency MPs and County MPs should ensure that each of Northern Ireland, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland return no more MPs in total than they currently do. Thus the balance between the nations at Westminster is undisturbed.
The impact on the overall election result would be marginal. In predominantly Labour constituencies, Tory county MPs would be returned and vice versa. This will deflate the enormous majorities in landslides (most recently in 1983, 1997 and 1997) but retain significant majorities nonetheless. Effective government is retained. In regions with significant local factors, one or two county MPs may arise – perhaps a Green County MP in the Bristol area, a UKIP County MP in Kent, Plaid Cymru in Wales. The 2015 election would have returned Labour County MPs in Scotland at the expense of some SNP MPs (this was because they almost completely swept the board). Every Vote Counts will tend to redistribute representation rather than transform it. The Parliamentary arithmetic is marginally changed, but the incentive for voters to participate is radically improved. Minor parties will need to build significant presence in regionally and nationally to expect to benefit, i.e. work hard to convince serious number of voters of their cause – what democracy and the rule of law is all about. Replace cynicism with participation.
The Counties of course do not represent perfectly equal constituencies. There will be a significant difference in the size of the electorate between say Herefordshire and Merseyside. This is a compromise worth making to maintain the core appeal of this system – simplicity.
The historians reading this will recognise that County MPs are nothing new. In the days of rotten boroughs, the County constituencies, due to their size, represented the most democratic and uncorrupted part of the House of Commons of the Pitts, Fox, Disraeli and Gladstone. The resurrection of the County MP in the Every Vote Counts proposal resonates with the history of Parliament.
There is something inherently British in reforming a system rather than abolishing it and replacing it with something completely new, untried. We tend not to be too keen on throwing babies out with bath water. This innovation borrows from tradition.
Scotland has had something similar for the Scottish Parliament since 1999. However, Scottish voters have to make two different votes – one for the constituency and one for a regional MSP. There are eight electoral regions (a technical construct bearing little relationship with local identity) each of which returns seven regional MSPs. We are firmly in the PR territory of lists. The Scottish system has gone from the Westminster extreme of one representative to eight (your constituency MSP and seven regional MSPs)! Every Vote Counts asks the voter to do nothing different – no extra ballot papers, no lists or preferences to interpret and understand. Every Vote Counts offer one extra representative. The new County MP may well continue to represent one of the main political parties. There will be plenty of voters whose preferred party continues to be unrepresented. Hopefully they will see the prospect of ultimately seeing their politics represented at Westminster being a closer reality than under the current system. Long may they continue to argue their cause and strive for their beliefs. The Bubble will have expanded and entry no longer impossible.
The Scottish system also has a massive proportion of MSPs (43% – 56 regional MSPs out of 129) represented by the regional MSPs. Again, to the rest of the UK this is likely to represent too large a step. The proportions of MPs represented by County MPs under Every Vote Counts would be far more modest.
Simple, gentle, effective – Every Vote Counts can embrace the disaffected and offer hope of representation. It requires The Bubble to accept change.