Why The UK Needs Electoral Reform
What can we learn from 2015?
The 2015 General Election came and went, delivering a Conservative majority government with Labour failing to engage the electorate as a credible alternative and ended up having less seats than they did after the 2010 General Election, which must have been disappointing and shocking in equal measure to the Labour leadership. The Scottish National Party (SNP), as predicted, swept through Scotland gaining a landslide, winning 56 out of 59 seats. Nicola Sturgeon's bold conviction and a presentation of a new progressive form of politics tuned in to the social beating heart of Scotland. The Liberal Democrats faced the wrath of the electorate, getting pulverised with only 8 seats being won with heavy ministerial losses such as Vince Cable (Business Secretary) and Danny Alexander (Treasury). In many constituencies they were behind both the UK Independence Party (UKIP) and the Greens. The explosion of the UKIP movement failed to make an impact on the Commons with only one seat being won whilst Nigel Farage failed to win South Thanet. This, in particular, brought the issue of electoral reform back into the public consciousness.
The issue of electoral reform has always been a cornerstone of the liberal movement and the wider left but now it's being embraced by the right in the form of UKIP. Why? Well despite their abysmal showing in the Commons they managed to get roughly 5 million votes with 12.6% of the national vote share. Almost as many votes as Plaid Cymru, SNP and the Liberal Democrats put together, who in total got 67 seats between them compared with UKIP's 1. Now, personally I'm no UKIP supporter, but in the interest of Parliamentary Democracy and fair representation– that is patently ludicrous. Similarly, the Greens received over a million votes with 3.8% of the national vote but with only one seat to show for it. An astonishing statistic that often hits home with people on how much of a disparity there can be is an example from 2010. The Liberal Democrats received 23% of the national vote but only around 7% of the seats. Still, they'd love for that result now. What a difference five years in politics makes, eh, Cleggy Boy?
The reason for this if you don't know, is because our electoral system, First Past The Post (FPTP), is not based on votes but based on seats. It's a 'Winner Takes All' type of system whereby the victor of a constituency reaps all the reward and all the other votes cast are void essentially. In this way, it's entirely possible for a party to form a Government with LESS votes than another party and indeed that has happened in the past. To me, this treats a political party almost like a football team, with the party who 'scores' the most votes in a constituency winning the game. But this isn't football. This is deciding who's running the country, and not a game. EVERY person's vote should count. This is why I and many others feel a move towards a proportional electoral system would be the right move in terms of making the country fairer and more equal. Representation and Plurality, key buzzwords in the political sphere but for good reason - it's part of the fabric that creates a democracy and a proportional system would create greater representation and plurality compared to, in my view, the anachronistic FPTP.
Why are people opposed to such a move? Well first of all, you're not going to be hearing the Conservative or Labour Party, in general, sing from the Westminster rooftops about how much more of a benefit to people it could be because they directly benefit from such a system. Though why would Joe Bloggs down the street oppose proportional representation? These are probably the common answers you'll hear:
If it ain't broke, don't fix it (Traditional)
First of all, I'd contend FPTP is an extremely broken electoral system but people can sometimes be nervous of change. I mean, they've voted before and got a Government out of it ,so by definition the electoral system isn't broken - which is a mentality some have. Some may state that FPTP is a traditional element of British democracy as a reason to keep it, but what use is tradition when something can be improved upon?
It delivers a strong, stable Government
This line of argument is that a proportional system would lead to the rise of more coalition governments and FPTP generally delivers a strong, single party government. Arguing that Coalitions create unstable government are a barrier to efficient passing of legislation. In my opinion if we as a human race can't run a Government properly with multiple parties then I think we're stuffed quite frankly and if anything it shows we need a revolution of thought in the political world.
The second half of the argument is that FPTP gives a Government a clear mandate to rule but as we've seen, that's illusory as FPTP creates wasted votes and a large disparity between vote share and seats won. Arguably that is not the basis of a 'strong' mandate whatsoever.
It Leads To A Rise of Extremism
The nature of proportional representation would give a lot more smaller parties a chance of being represented in Parliament, including those on the 'extremist' spectrum. This is true and would likely happen but that's Parliamentary Democracy, and I think it would be a small price to pay for a fairer representation of what the electorate voted for.
I feel the state of British politics and wider society is terrible and one of the first things we could do to change our situation is electoral reform, a more accurately represented, more plural country would be a huge step forward. The Northern Irish Assembly uses Single Transferable Vote (STV) to elect their politicians and the Scottish Parliament uses the Additional Membership System (AMS) to elect theirs. It's about time Westminster modernised and embraced proportional representation.