Hungry for democracy? These pro-PR campaigners certainly are

On Tuesday, activists and politicians in favour of proportional representation are set to go on a 24-hour hunger strike.

The strike was called for by Make Votes Matter, a campaign formed in the aftermath of the 2015 election with the purpose of fighting to introduce a fairer voting system for elections in the UK. The strike has spread to include politicians from across the political spectrum.

High-profile strikers include Labour MP Stephen Kinnock, Liberal Democrat President Sal Brinton and former Green leader Natalie Bennett.

The reason behind this particular tactic comes from the fact that 100 years ago to the day of the strike (6th February 1918) the Representation of the People Act became law, extending the franchise to women for the first time. The strike will commemorate this significant step 100 years ago while also highlighting that the fight for democracy is ongoing.

Hunger strikes were commonplace during the campaigns for gender equality in the country’s voting system, and Make Votes Matter are using this tactic to highlight that although women and men over the age of 18 can vote in national elections, the current voting system used to elect to MPs to the House of Commons (FPTP) results in most votes not counting, highlighting a fundamental democratic deficit.

The campaign also notes the “severity of what” the suffragists and suffragettes went through to extend the franchise and subsequently have called on donations alongside the strike. Funds are therefore set to be split between the Trussell Trust, the Fawcett Society and Make Votes Matter.

Of the Hungry for Democracy strike, Klina Jordan, Co-founder of Make Votes Matter said:

“It’s 100 years since the first women won the vote, but the struggle for democracy in the UK is far from over. Our First Past the Post voting system denies representation to millions and all but guarantees divisive minority rule.

“Proportional Representation simply means that Parliament fairly reflects the voters - something most developed countries already take for granted. We call on everyone who wants real democracy in the UK to join the movement for Proportional Representation.”

The strike, backed by high-profile figures, is likely to raise awareness of the issue, but in the current parliament, in which the FPTP-backing Conservatives are in power, there is unlikely to be change.

What are the arguments for changing the voting system?

Proponents of reform argue that the current system does not result in an outcome that reflects how people actually voted. The most striking example of this was in 2005, when Tony Blair’s New Labour won 35% of the votes cast but over 50% of the seats, resulting in them getting 100% of the power.

Furthermore, this results in majority governments made up of a party (or parties as is the current case) rejected by the majority of the country’s voters). A switch to a proportional system such as STV or AMS would make votes matter, hence the aforementioned campaign-group's name. It would also ensure that governments are supported by at least 50% of parliamentarians that represent at least 50% of the population. Additionally, a more proportional system would put an end to tactical voting and give voters a wider range of representatives to go to, thus strengthening the constituency link.