It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Evans. I start from the point of view that our electoral system is not one that I could, hand on heart, say is democratic perfection. It is clear that our winner-takes-all format means that millions of people feel that their vote does not count, and of course there is the unquantifiable number of people who vote for something other than their first choice because they see the vote in their area as a choice between the lesser of two evils, rather than as a positive vote for the party that they want to support. Proclaiming that I have won an election because I am the lesser of two evils has not yet made it into any of my acceptance speeches, but I have been called a lot worse, particularly recently.
As politics in this country is in crisis, it is not surprising that the news that a comedian has won the Ukrainian elections has been met by comments in this country that we had beaten them to it. Such is the contempt that people feel for us all now that it would not surprise me to see, if we had an election soon, more than a few of us being replaced by unlikely candidates: having no previous political experience is definitely a selling point right now. What I am talking about is not just a new name for old faces, but a new type of politician, an anti-politics politician, the likes of whom we have seen springing up all over the world in recent years.
It is evident at every election that millions of votes end up counting for nothing and some votes, depending on where they are, can literally be worth their weight in gold, so I want reform of the current system. However, I am sceptical about constitutional changes coming forward from the existing set of politicians, because there is almost always going to be some element of political calculation with such proposals.
Let us take the 2011 AV referendum. I voted in that referendum to change the system, but I was under no illusions: the only reason why it came forward was that it was politically expedient for the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats at the time to hold a referendum to keep the coalition agreement going. I appreciate that AV is not the purest form of PR and that it is possible that in landslide years it can exaggerate the winning party’s dominance even more, but at least in that set-up everyone should be able to vote for their preferred choice, at least in the first instance.
However, the real attraction of AV for me is the retention of the constituency link. I believe that the best element of our current system is that each Member has to answer to his or her constituents at every election and that there is no hiding place for the decisions that they take. PR systems and lists remove that vital link and can lead to a lack of direct accountability between voters and those who represent them.
I wonder whether the 2016 referendum result would have been different if MEPs had individual constituencies to represent. Obviously, the factors behind that vote were many, and it would probably be stretching things too far to say that the outcome would have been different, but it is clear that one reason why leave won was that people did not think that the European Parliament was representing their interests. The lack of an identifiable local representative was part of that.