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?

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