Keep it in proportion

I fear that Stuart Weir is right in describing Labour's latest ideas for electoral reform as a dangerous stitch-up ("Dirty deeds in deepest Devon", 17 July).

However, there is a way of retaining single-member constituencies and yet achieving proportionality without the use of "top-up" MPs - namely, the system proposed by Jean-Charles de Borda in 1770 to elect members to the Academy of Sciences in Paris.

Under the Borda system, voters rank candidates in order of preference. These preferences are then weighted so that, in an election with X candidates, a voter's first choice is awarded X points, a second choice X-1 points, and so on (unassigned points are divided up equally between the unranked candidates); the candidate with the most points wins. If necessary, the calculations can be done by machine.

This appears to be the fairest way of achieving proportionality without using multi-member constituencies, and so might be acceptable to both Labour and the Liberal Democrats.

Paul Durden
via e-mail

Stuart Weir's article serves to reinforce the spin that those who oppose voting reform have put on the decisions of the recent Labour Party national policy forum. But the wording actually agreed at the policy forum means that all is far from lost and, indeed, that reformers have everything to play for.

Serious concerns were expressed about the Jenkins proposal of AV-plus, but it was not ruled out and no other system was agreed. The party did not commit itself to any particular attitude in the referendum.

This outcome contrasts with the earlier triumphalism from the first-past-the-post campaign, which claimed at the beginning of the year that, by a margin of five to one, Labour Party members were in favour both of first past the post and of ditching the promised referendum on voting reform.

Nina Temple
Director, Make Votes Count
London SE1

This article first appeared in the 24 July 2000 issue of the New Statesman, Miserable small-mindedness