British democracy is in desperate need of deep and wide reforms. Switching to a fairer voting system could go a long way to improving our democracy.
Here are seven reasons to back a fairer voting system.
1. An end to minority rule
Under first-past-the-post, the extent to which the UK’s democracy achieves fair governmental representation is extremely limited. In 1997, Labour won 43% of the vote, but held over six in ten of the seats. 57% of voters did not for Tony Blair’s party, yet New Labour had complete control of the chamber.
Eight years later, Labour won just 35% of the vote and secured a bigger majority than Cameron did in 2015. Majority governments elected via FPTP allow for minorities to have absolute control whereas a proportional voting system would result in governments being formed with the backing of a majority of voters.
2. A representative parliament
The whole point of representative democracy is that voters get a say in who represents them. Under FPTP, smaller parties are discriminated against, thus silencing the voices of millions of voters. This works in two ways: firstly, votes for minority parties rarely translate into seats (just look at UKIP’s four million votes in 2015 and the one seat they won in total), and secondly, minority party voters are put off voting for their first choice due to the fact that they are unlikely to win.
If 2017's general election had been conducted under a fairer voting system such as the Single Transferable Vote or the Additional Member System, I highly doubt Labour and the Conservatives would have done so well in terms of vote share. Under a fair voting system, the Liberal Democrats and the Greens would benefit as votes would result in seats, thus giving a voice to those who are currently silenced by FPTP.
3. No more second-place winners
The point of FPTP is to produce strong and stable majority governments. In the last three elections, FPTP has failed to do just that. In 2010, the Conservatives had to form a coalition with the Liberal Democrats, in 2015, they just managed to win a majority, and in 2017 they lost their majority and were forced to work with the DUP. FPTP is not even resulting in what it is designed to do any more.
On top of that, a number of modern elections have resulted in the party with the most votes coming in second in the final seat count, such as in 1951 and in February 1974.
First-past-the-post is outdated and does not even meet the goals it sets itself. A switch to a proportional voting system would lead to results that truly reflect what people vote for, and would not lead to “wrong winner” elections.
4. An end to coalitions of convenience
One of the reasons the Labour and Conservative parties are so dominant and united (not with each other, but in terms of the fact they remain distinct parties) in British politics is that the voting system forces a two-party system and keeps them glued together. Under a fair voting system, the parties would likely split and be more honest about who they are. Clearly, there is a large segment of Labour voters that would like to see an end to Corbyn and a large chunk on the left of the party who kept their heads down in the Blair years.
A fair voting system would allow for the big parties to split and be honest with themselves and public about their internal divisions. Different factions could put forward competing manifestos and unite after the election to form coalitions of compromise. The plurality of political opinion in this country is far too big to be caged by a two-party system.
5. A strengthened constituency link
Another supposed merit of FPTP is that the constituency link it creates is a crucial component of British democracy and should not be tampered with. The idea of an MP being a local champion is an important one, but there does not need to be a direct trade-off between fair representation and the constituency link.
A switch to the Single Transferable Vote would create slightly larger constituencies, but would result in a diverse mix of representation. Currently, there is just representative that voters can go to with issues on the Westminster level, something which can be off-putting if said MP comes from a greatly different viewpoint on key issues from the constituent. STV, used in Ireland, Northern Ireland and in Scottish Local Elections, gives voters choice at the ballot box and choice during the parliamentary term and therefore strengthens and diversifies the constituency link. Surely a healthy democracy should result in effective communication between voters and representatives?
6. Higher turnout and political engagement
According to the Independent, evidence from political science giant Pippa Norris suggests that PR would improve turnout. Intuitively, this makes sense as voters are surely more likely to take the time to go out on polling day and cast their votes for their chosen candidates as they would be more likely win seats.
What’s the point in Conservative voters casting their ballots in a FPTP seat where Labour has a 70% vote share? PR could address this issue and help create a healthier democracy.
7. A weakening of national divides
In areas where Labour are truly dominant, Conservative and Liberal Democrat representation is incredibly limited. A fairer voting system would allow the voices of Tories in the north of England to gain fairer representation and the Labour party to win seats more in the south of England. The current set-up accentuates divides.
Yes, these parties won plurality support in each nation, but the size of their wins was stretched and distorted by FPTP. A fairer voting system would result in a much fairer outcome in all parts of the United Kingdom.
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