Month: April 2006

Welsh abuse?

Scotland has its West Lothian Question, Wales has its very own West Clwyd question. The question being, is it right for Welsh Assembly election candidates to be able to stand for both a constituency seat and a regional list seat?

Peter Hain and the Labour Government are getting very worked up about this ‘abuse’ of the system and despite their plans to change it being overturned in the Lords they still want to push it through.

I can see where Peter Hain is coming from. In Clwyd West constituency all of the candidates for the four main parties were elected, including the three that lost. In other words, Labour won Clwyd West constituency, but the Lib Dem, Conservative and Plaid Cymru candidates were at the top of their regional lists and so got elected there instead. It seems unfair, but look at it another way.

You are a Lib Dem regional member of the Welsh Assembly, lets call you Peter White. Peter White is a very good assembly member, you are doing a lot of work, fighting for local people and become very popular, particularly in the city in which you live. As a result of this, and the work that you put in to campaigning in your home city, the Lib Dem vote goes up dramatically in your home constituency. That’s good as you are comfortably re-elected at the next assembly elections. Four years go past and it comes to the next assembly elections. You stand for re-election and despite being very popular you lose your seat. Why? Because the Lib Dem vote has gone up so much in your home constituency that the Lib Dems win it, but because the regional list members are only there as a top-up the regional list member loses his seat. So, as a consequence of only being able to stand once you could lose very good members of the Welsh Assembly.

Does it ever happen? Well yes. In the last elections to the Greater London Authority, which uses the same electoral system as Wales, the Tories defeated their own leader in the same way. The Tories had a good GLA election and won the Brent & Harrow seat from Labour. As a result, they were no longer entitled to a top-up seat as they now had the right number of seats for their vote. That top-up member was their leader. So as a result of their leader doing a good job and boosting the Tory vote, he ended up losing his seat. Does this seem fair?

The answer to all of this is to scrap the top-up system and have a proportional system like Single Transferable Vote. That way you wouldn’t have this anomaly, and you wouldn’t have different categories of AM, which does confuse the electorate. But in the meantime, lets keep the current system. It is an anomaly, but it isn’t an abuse. Alternatively, Labour could at least have an open list system where voters can re-order the party lists, like what happens in countries like Sweden, which would at least ensure that whoever was top of a party list wasn’t necessarily guaranteed election and would have to fight for every vote.

BBC NEWS: Hain vows to end election ‘abuse’