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LSE professor inspires Parliamentary rethink on voting reform

The Government is being urged to revise its agenda for electoral reform by MPs and members of the Lords who seized on analysis of the topic by LSE professor Patrick Dunleavy. 

Both Houses of Parliament have heard calls to adopt the 'London alternative vote system' recommended by Professor Dunleavy if the UK votes to abandon the existing first-past-the-post method when a national referendum is held in May. 

VotingProfessor Dunleavy, from LSE's Department of Government, argues that the London system, in which voters register pick their first and second choices from a list of candidates, is best because it ensures the election of a candidate with substantial local support. The 'Australian' system of AV, which would be adopted as things stand, asks voters to rank all candidates in order of their preference – eliminating the least popular in successive rounds of voting.  

The problem with the system, says Professor Dunleavy, is that it may allow the candidate who is only third, fourth or even fifth-most popular to win an election. This, he said in evidence to the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee of the Commons, means: 'there will be a continuing problem of fewer and fewer MPs having local majority support, and that is very unlikely to go away.' 

His suggestion led to action in the House from MPs Christopher Chope and Stuart Bell who both recommended adopting the London system (so-called because it is the system used in elections for the London Mayor) and referred to Professor Dunleavy's work on the subject. 

In the Lords, Lord Campbell-Savours said he intended to propose an amendment to the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill which would at least keep the options for different types of AV open.  He told peers: 'Professor Dunleavy's view is that the electorate may have difficulty in supporting a system that had not been specified. He suggests that an amendment might refer to a question being placed before the electorate after Parliament has specified the system that it wishes to legislate for. I shall therefore also table such an amendment.' 

Lord Campbell-Savours also referred to opinion from LSE professor Simon Hix in his speech. 

Professor Dunleavy also argues that with different elections (for example local, national and Mayoral) often taking place on the same day in the UK, it is important to adopt a system which can be used consistently and avoid confusing the public. 

For more of his analysis on voting systems visit his blog post on British Politics and Policy