Democracy is a way of representing the people of a nation, making sure people’s needs, their concerns, are heard. Democracy works best when every vote counts, when citizens have power over elections, when the people can express their beliefs at the ballot box; not simply vote for the lesser of two evils. The current voting system works in favour of the large parties and damages small parties, therefore stifling political debate, and creating a two party system that pleases no one. No government since 1935 has got more than 50 per cent of the vote.
The reason for this enormous discrepancy between votes and seats is the voting system, First Past the Post (FPTP). This is where the nation is split into constituencies, such as Ceredigion, and the party that wins the most votes wins. This sounds good in practise until you realise that the most votes doesn’t mean a majority. In Ceredigion last year, the Liberal Democrats won the constituency with a mere 35.9% of the vote. This doesn’t represent nearly 65% of voters, who all voted for different candidates. Is this fair? Examples like these are seen throughout the country, and it leads to tactical voting; voting for a candidate you don’t agree with to stop a worse candidate, this is the ‘lesser of two evils’ that leads to a two party system like we see in the US. Some argue that we need FPTP in order to have majority governments, stable governments, yet we don’t need majority governments in our modern Britain, we need compromise, debate and discussion that leads to understanding rather than polarization. Look at Germany, an economic powerhouse within the EU, they have never seen a majority government since the war. Their country is one of compromise; they have a healthier political discourse.
It is worth noting that the new boundary changes, ones that will reduce the number of MPs to 600, will increase this problem, giving the conservatives a majority of over 40 seats, with the exact same vote share as the last election.
So what are the alternatives?
STV, the Single Transferable Vote is a popular option. This is where voters rank their candidates in order of preference. The candidate with the fewest preferences is eliminated in each round and then the votes for that candidate are redistributed according to the highest remaining preference. Usually there is more than one candidate elected per constituency, this is what makes the system proportional, if this is the case a set percentage of the vote is needed to be elected.
Another option is the Additional Member System which has First Pass the Post or the Single Transferrable Vote in constituencies. But to make the parliament more representative more members are added on, from a second ballot paper. This ballot is for the region, not the constituency, this means that you can vote for individuals on the first paper and different parties on the second paper. The end result is a parliament with members roughly equal to the percentage of the vote they or their party received. We use this method for our Welsh Assembly elections. In this case the second ballot elects ⅓ of members and the first ballot uses First Past the Post.
Proportional Representation has no constituency MP’s, all candidates are selected from a list, by percentage of the vote. So a party with 20% of the vote would get 20% of the seats. Some dislike this system as it removes the local level of being an MP, thus making politics seem less personal. But it is the fairest possible system.
Personally, I prefer the Additional Member System, with individual constituencies using STV. This would allow for a better choice at constituency level, such as Ceredigion, and have an even more representative parliament, a parliament that represents everyone, not just the large parties.
Yet you may be wondering about the AV Referendum. That referendum was deliberately a mess. It was put in place at the height of the Liberal Democrat’s unpopularity, and the No to AV campaign’s negative tactics was blatant scaremongering. People simply didn’t know what they were voting for, there was deliberate confusion from the No camp before the referendum had even started. Britain deserves the chance to make an informed decision.
So how can we get a fairer, more representative, more democratic voting system? We need the left to unite in agreement that the norm is against the will of the people. We need the broad tent, Labour, to campaign for voting reform. And they should, it’s the only way they’ll survive their current crisis. A split wouldn’t be as costly for Labour, and the labour movement. People from the left (John McDonnell) and the right (Chuka Umunna) of the Labour Party have supported voting reform.
If you believe in democracy, fair representation and accountability I urge you to campaign, and vote, for a fairer, more democratic, voting system.