I've just had an illuminating (well, in one sense) exchange with Iain Dale on Twitter. In a blog post this morning, he had set out his reasons for opposing STV (the voting system rather than the TV station) - in a nutshell, that it weakens the constituency link by creating large, multi-member constituencies. So I asked him if he wasn't similarly concerned about the Tory plans to cut the size of the House of Commons, which by definition will dilute the constituency link by increasing the size of constituencies. Somewhat to my astonishment, Dale flatly denied that the link would be diluted "at all", and insisted that only the multi-member v single-member point was of any relevance to the issue. I put it to him that a local councillor fairly obviously has a stronger link to the people he represents than an MP. This was Dale's reply -
"No. You could argue less, as most councillors are in three member wards"
Now, I must say it's somewhat startling to have been called "obtuse" and "desperate" by someone who is boneheadedly trying to hold the line that a politician representing a ward of only a few thousand people somehow has a weaker link to those he represents than a politician representing tens of thousands! The logic of Dale's extraordinary position is that it doesn't matter how large a constituency is, just so long as only one person is representing it. (He doesn't really believe that himself, incidentally, as evidenced by his apologetic aside "and we're only talking 10%", but taken literally that's his position.) Does anyone seriously believe that in a constituency of, say, 150,000 people, you'd receive better representation from one person than you could from three? I suspect Dale is essentially looking at the benefits of the constituency link from the top-down, rather than the bottom-up. It may very well be in the interests of an MP representing a huge constituency to continue to have exclusive "proprietorial rights" over all of his or her constituents, but I struggle to see how that can possibly be in the interests of those constituents.
Dale concluded the exchange by revealing just how fundamentally he misunderstands the nature of STV -
"What I object to are multi mamber constituencies where people vote for a party, not a candidate."
No problem. Under STV, in contrast to many PR systems, electors vote exclusively for candidates and not for political parties. Where it differs from first-past-the-post, however, is that voters have a choice of several different candidates from the same party - and the experience in Ireland shows that, when it really comes down to it, it doesn't make a lot of difference how much the party machines urge voters to rank candidates in a certain order. A particularly objectionable candidate will always be squeezed out - now, just how often does that ever happen under FPTP in an ultra-safe seat? Once in a blue moon. A Tory voter in Buckinghamshire who doesn't like the official Tory candidate has no alternative Tory candidate to turn to. The best feature of all about STV, though, is that a popular candidate dropped or sidelined by a party stands every chance of being elected as an independent, due to the low threshold required for success - so the best-laid plans of the party machines are thwarted at both ends. Again, this happens only very, very occasionally under FPTP.
So I say this to Iain Dale - if you mean what you say about wanting local representatives to be chosen by local people and not by party machines, be true to your convictions. Ditch your irrational support for FPTP, and embrace STV, which does exactly what you claim you want.