A New Speaker ... the first lesson to learn

I was lucky enough (gosh, that does sound sad) to watch events unfold live on the BBC Parliament channel this afternoon. My first choice would have been Alan Beith, but John Bercow would have been second. I was delighted that Margaret Beckett didn't win. Not for any personal reasons, nor because of any doubts about her ability, but because the Labour Party machine was using the whips to try and push her through ... and narrow party political interests are the last thing anyone with any sense would want to inflict on the House of Commons at this time.

The best party political remark I heard was reported by Labour MP Tom Harris:

A Labour colleague was in the toilet next to the chamber just before the first ballot, when he was joined by David Cameron in the adjacent urinal.

“David, I’m about to vote Tory for the very first time in my life,” said my friend jovially.

“John Bercow doesn’t count!” replied Cameron.

But I actually want to make a more serious point. Riveting though the election was, it perfectly displayed the convoluted farce that the House of Commons has got to work hard to put behind it.

What on earth was the point of what could—if three of the candidates had not had the good sense to withdraw themselves voluntarily—gone to five or six rounds of printing new ballot papers and walking through the lobbies time after time ... after time? They could easily have been there until midnight.

Has none of them heard about listing candidates in order of preference?

This is the one basic principle that we must introduce into our voting system. Voters simply put a 1, 2, 3 etc ... against each candidate. The votes are then counted, the lowest ranking candidates get progressively eliminated, but the second and third (and so on) preferences of those that voted for them get counted until the winner emerges.

That goes under various names according to whether we are electing one person to fill just one position, or whether we are electing a number of people to fill several positions, such as the number of members in a multi-member constituency. If the election is to fill just one position it is called the "alternative vote" or "instant runoff voting" ... if it is to fill a number of positions it is called the "single transferable vote", but the principle is pretty much the same.


As I've said before, I'd much prefer to see STV for all elections to Westminster, the Senedd, Local Councils and the European Parliament. However I think that this might be a step too far for a tired old institution such as Westminster to adopt. There are too many vested interests. But at the very least using this method to elect each individual MP to the same Westminster constituencies that we have at present is an improvement. This is for two reasons:

In the first place it gives the MP greater legitimacy than s/he has at present ... simply because they would have needed to get the support of a majority of the voters in their constituency. In 2005, for example, Ynys Môn was won with only 34.6% of the vote.

Secondly, it would do away with tactical voting. Voters would no longer be put in the invidious position of having to give their one vote to a second or third choice candidate on the grounds that their first choice might have no chance of winning. Preference voting means that there is no danger that their vote would be wasted, and so would lead to more people getting out to vote.

Bercow can't deliver this on his own, but he can do a lot to facilitate it. In my opinion electoral reform is the one big thing that Westminster needs to address. Hopefully they can use the convoluted spectacle of today's vote as the first practical demonstration of why we need to make old, outdated ways of voting fit for today's world.

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