Is Britain’s voting system on its last legs?

House Of Commons

The country’s voters rejected a change in voting system back in 2011, but in light of the last election is it time to move on once and for all?

In 2010, the country voted for its first hung-parliament in decades. Five years later, a slim Conservative majority government was returned, and two years after that another hung parliament was produced. Two out of three of the last elections have resulted in hung parliaments and the one in between produced the smallest of majorities. One of the main arguments in favour of the current first-past-the-post system, is that it produces strong majorities, thus generally ensuring stability. However, when the system fails to do what it’s meant to, that adds another argument to the already long list on why reforms should take place.

Katie Ghose, the former CE of the Electoral Reform Society, put it like this on Twitter: "This is the third election in a row where FPTP has failed to do what it says on the tin."

The main argument against first-past-the-post is that seats don’t match votes. Larger parties benefit from the winner takes all constituency system whereas smaller parties with vote-shares spread across the entire country suffer at the hands of the system.

Is there popular support for a change?

An ICM poll conducted for pro-electoral reform group Make Votes Matter, indicated that 67% of voters said they “think the share of seats a party wins should closely match the share of the vote it receives.” Just 12% of respondents said that seats should not match votes. The poll suggests strong backing for the principal of a reformed voting system where seats and votes are similar.

Another poll commissioned for Make Votes Matter also found that 76% of Labour voters would back Labour in supporting proportional representation whereas just 5% said they would oppose it.

The polls indicate that there is a significant appetite for change although the question is: which alternative voting system should the country adopt?

What are the chances of reform happening?

While the first poll found significant support amongst Conservative voters for the principal of proportional representation, you will find it difficult to find a Conservative MP in favour of change.

On the other side of the house however, there is support for a change in system. The Greens, the SNP, Liberal Democrats and UKIP all support a change in voting system. There are also a significant number of Labour MPs who back reform including Cat Smith, Richard Burden, Clive Lewis, John Cruddas, Paul Flynn, and Stephen Kinnock, who all signed the joint Make Votes Matter and Labour Campaign for electoral reform report on the issue. Furthermore, the Independent has reported that Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell is in favour of proportional representation. The newspaper has also reported that Jeremy Corbyn has said that “reform of the electoral system should be considered as part of a wider constitutional convention” although there is a lack of a specific commitment.

Labour's 2017 manifesto failed to include a pledge in support of introducing a more proportional voting system, however, with many key players within the party backing the idea, it is not far-fetched to imagine a situation where a future minority Labour government backs change with the help of the Lib Dems, SNP and Greens.

Under the Conservatives a change in system is unlikely to take place, but I would not be surprised if electoral reform happened within the next ten years.