Michael Calderbank (London, Electoral Reform Society): I am encouraged to see that the contest for Labour's deputy leadership is provoking a more concrete debate on constitutional reform. In particular, I welcome the fact that a clear majority of the candidates have positively advocated a wholly or substantially elected second chamber. However, in addition to its composition, the importance of ensuring that the members of this new body take their places under a fair and more representative voting system needs to be emphasised. Members of a second chamber must be elected by a voting system that distributes seats broadly in proportion to the votes cast.
Though not addressed directly in any of the candidates' responses, the voting system used will be critical in determining whether the parties will maintain the power of patronage on the upper chamber through the manipulation of party lists, or whether, by contrast, meaningful choice will be transferred to the voters. Matt d'Ancona made this point forcefully some time ago in the Sunday Telgraph, discussing the government's proposed list-based system of Lords election:
"it is pitiful that the Government's favoured procedure for election to the new second chamber is one that maximises party patronage... Such a system would give party bosses almost completely unrestricted powers of patronage. Even the existing system of appointments at the heart of the cash-for-honours scandal has some checks and balances. Scotland Yard's investigation would never have begun had the Lords Appointment Commission not raised objections in 2005 to four nominees for peerages who had made secret loans to the Labour Party. But those placed on party lists in the proposed election would not be subject even to this minimal vetting. There would be nothing to stop a donor or lender trading, say, £1 million for a place on a party list and a guaranteed 15-year term in the second chamber. Incredibly, the new system would be more open to abuse than the old."
It is to prevent patronage and possible corruption of this kind that we at the ERS support the introduction of the "Single Transferable Vote" (STV) system for both Houses of Parliament.