Saturday, 13 November 2010

Voting Reform - AV ends safe seats for unpopular MPs.

Under FPTP bad and unpopular MPs can often be impossible to remove. This can occur when the bad MP represents a party who have overwhelming support in their constituency.

Despite voters not liking or wanting the MP, under FPTP the voters feel obliged to vote for the MP otherwise an unwanted party may win the seat!

You may think well why not put up another candidate that supports the same party as the sitting MP? Effectively two candidates for the same party, the unpopular sitting MP and a new untainted candidate?

Well under FPTP this just wouldn't work -- it risks splitting the parties votes between the two candidates this could (again) mean that an unwanted party winning the seat.

However, under AV, this would work just fine... Voters could give preferences to both candidates -- knowing that if one is knocked their vote will transfer to the other - they can choose which candidate of the two they prefer with no risk of their vote 'letting in' a different party.


Some people have said that they think this an unlikely scenario (unofficial/independent party candidates running against official party candidates), but it has been observed that this is what happened when Ken Livingstone failed to be selected as Labour candidate for London Mayor in 2000, and Frank Dobson won their nomination. Ken (for better or worse!) ran against him was expelled from the Labour party but went on to beat Frank and won the office of Mayor. While 'independent' and as Mayor Ken applied to rejoin the labour party in 2002 finally being readmitted in 2004 and going on to be the official Labour candidate that year.


  1. Hey,

    The reality is that a safe seat is one that can only be won with a significant shift in the voting public's voting practices in a constituency. Under FPTP this means MPs with more than 10% margin of lead over their opponents are, outside of a landslide, unlikely to lose their seat. Those with a 20% margin almost certainly won't.

    Does AV abolish this situation? No, unfortunately it doesn't. While we remain in single member constituencies there will always be an element of "safe seats", however the amount of them will be reduced, the swings needed to dethrone an MP will be cut, and the reality is that if there really is a safe seat it is more likely that it is so because the general population in that constituency are happy with the situation, unlike FPTP's safe seats where principled voters splitting the second place vote can land themselves with an MP the majority of constituents dislike more AND is hard to unseat without a much less principled tactical vote.

    Even under STV you'll find MPs that are almost never out of parliament due to the core support for their party in a constituency, they would also be "safe".

    I think the terminology of "safe seats" is a dangerous one, popularity leads to safe seats and popular MPs doing a good job should never be artificially forced in to marginal races for the sake of "doing away with safe seats". The problem is that of *requiring* tactical voting, rather than voting for who you really want, to get rid of MPs that are otherwise very safe, above and beyond national levels of opinion swing, just to get an MP that the majority of the population can get behind.

  2. AV will definitely mean less safe seats, which is obviously a good thing, as it means MPs working harder for their constituents to keep their job.

    But it won't abolish the safest seats. At the moment there are about 1/3 seats that elected their MP under FPTP with over 50%. I can't see how that will change.

    What it will change are the current moderately safe seats, where the incumbent has 40-50% of the vote. It is exceptional for these seats to change hands under the current FPTP system, but there must be a change if the winner is to get over the 50% line. There will be a proper competition to win the support of the majority of voters, and no MP here can be complacent like some are at the moment.

  3. If people want (say) a Labour MP - it would be perverse for an electoral system to actively deny them their choice!

    But if the MP was a bad MP then they are in a bit of a quandry - right party, wrong person. FPTP means 'tough, take it or leave it'.

    Whereas under AV an independent labour candidate could run against the labour MP - and people could vote for the labour candidate they prefer with no risk of splitting the vote and inadvertently letting Tories or LibDems in.

  4. I think you guys are missing the point he's making. Some seats will always be safe for a PARTY but won't be safe for a candidate because "unofficial" candidates will now be able to challenge them. At thr moment, unofficial candidates tend to get ignores as "spoilers" that would split the party vote so are ignored. Under preferential voting, there isn't this problem.

    Unofficial candidates will now have a fair shot at ousting an official one.