Let's hear it for the supplementary vote

PROPORTIONAL representation for the European elections is here to stay – but after the experience of the last two regional contests under the appalling closed party list system, it's time for a radical re-think before 2009.

PROPORTIONAL representation for the European elections is here to stay - but after the experience of the last two regional contests under the appalling closed party list system, it's time for a radical re-think before 2009.

Seven MEPs for the Eastern region were elected just nine days - three Tory, two UK Independence Party, one Labour and one Liberal Democrat. Can anyone remember who they are? If you can't, it's because you blindly voted for the party of your choice without any name recognition.

The Government is reviewing how to conduct the 2009 set of elections, and I expect a choice to be made from two systems - the single transferable vote, which was in use in Northern Ireland, or the supplementary vote.

If large multi-member regional constituencies are to be continued, then STV is the only logical method. It is the purist form of PR and would give people seven votes to pick and mix between different parties and independent candidates.


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Thus voters could still vote the party ticket and accept the ranking order of candidates. Or they could reorder the list into any ranking they liked. The third choice would be to opt for any seven candidates from any party, making it easier for an Independent like Martin Bell to get elected.

As idealistic as the single transferable vote sounds, I would rather see supplementary voting, the method used to choose the Mayor of London. This would have the enormous advantage of reintroducing smaller single member European constituencies in which voters have a chance of knowing who their Euro MP actually is.

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Electors are given first and second preference votes. You do not have to cast a second choice, but if you do, you cannot give both preferences to the same candidate.

If no candidate receives half of the first choice votes, all the other candidates except the two with the most first choice votes are eliminated. Then the second choice votes from the eliminated candidates are added up and distributed. The candidate with the most first and second choice votes wins.

In London's mayoral election, 1.92million voted. Ken Livingstone received 685,541 (35.7%) and Steve Norris 542,423 (28.2%). When the second preferences of the seven eliminated candidates were sorted, the tally for Livingstone rose to 828,380 and Norris's to 667,178.

It's not complicated, and anything which restores choice to the electorate from the party elite must be better than the present European nightmare.

UKIP topped the poll in Tendring district's Euro election, defeating the Conservatives by 2,400 and relegating Labour to a very poor third. The parliamentary constituency of Harwich lies wholly within Tendring and for Labour to poll less than half the UKIP vote - even though part of the North Essex seat comes under Tendring - should be a worry MP for Ivan Henderson, who is sitting on a majority of 2,596.

The sheer size of the Eurosceptic combined Tory-UKIP-British National Party vote - a total of 24,001, 63.11% of those who voted - may well propel Europe to the top of voters' General Election priorities in Harwich and this could also damage Tory chances. If UKIP carries out its threat to put up a high profile candidate, all bets are off on who will win the seat.

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