Here at TalkPolitics we are utterly devoted to free speech and democracy. No matter what the subject, we want as many voices as possible to be involved in the conversation. However, when it comes to the British public being able to freely express their views, they are faced with a huge obstacle that rarely gets talked about: the United Kingdom’s outdated, un-democratic voting system.
First Past The Post (FPTP) has been used to elect MPs in England, Scotland and Wales for more than 100 years: every constituency elects one local MP, and whichever party wins the most seats forms the new government. While this may sound like a fair way to do things, the reality is that FPTP rarely (if ever) results in a Parliament that accurately reflects the diverse range of parties that people actually vote for.
For instance, at the 2010 general election, the Liberal Democrats won more than 20% of the votes, but won only 10% of the seats. UKIP won 12.6% of the votes in 2015, but only returned a single MP to Parliament. This skewed representation of parties is hardly a surprise when you consider that 68% of votes at the last election were ‘wasted’. This means they were cast for losing candidates, or candidates who had already received enough votes to win their seat.
Then there is the phenomenon of ‘tactical voting’. This means voting for a candidate who is not your preferred choice, just to stop your least favourite candidate from winning. At the last general election an estimated 6.5 million voted tactically. While it may be effective in certain constituencies, tactical voting marginalises smaller parties, and risks jeopardising the wonderful variety that is so integral to representative democracy. Under proportional systems, it is always possible to vote for your favourite candidate, without the risk of helping your least preferred choice.
Supporters of FPTP argue that it is less likely to lead to coalition governments, which are weak and liable to fall apart. Even if we take the weakness of coalitions for granted (the recent Lib-Dem/Tory coalition lasted a full five year term) the evidence does not back this up. Two out of the last three general elections have resulted in a hung parliament, with no majority for any party. Those who argue that we should keep FPTP because it is simple and easy to understand - former prime minister David Cameron, for instance - are simply clasping at straws. People all over the world already use proportional systems to elect their leaders, with no trouble at all. Another argument is that other voting systems will be more costly to run. However, if we want to live in a society that truly derives its legitimacy from the will of the people, money must be no object.
So what should we replace the current system with? There are several proportional voting systems to choose from. Some of them have been used right here in the UK, successfully, for many years. The Scottish Parliament uses the Additional Member System (AMS), a hybrid system that ensures everyone gets a local legislator to represent them. In Northern Ireland, MPs are elected using Single Transferable Vote (STV), where voters rank the candidates in order of preference. The European Parliament is elected via a Closed Party List (CPL) system that gives each region multiple representatives. All of these are proportional systems, with their own relative benefits. Which one we choose for electing our Parliamentarians is up for debate, but at TalkPolitics we think that debate is long overdue.
Today, our friends at Make Votes Matter travel to Parliament to lobby the government for proportional representation. We support them absolutely in this important battle; when there is such a huge discrepancy between what people vote for and what they get, the very core of our democracy is threatened. It’s no wonder some people then get put off politics. If we want to tackle apathy and create an atmosphere where everyone feels comfortable participating, we must make sure that every vote, every voice, is counted.
Sources and Further Reading
Image: Lewishamdreamer @flickr