The First Past The Post (FPTP) voting system used in the UK has led to millions of people feeling completely disenfranchised and frustrated with politicians and politics in general.
Our current unsophisticated FPTP system is flawed in several different ways.
With FPTP, each voter has a single MP to represent them in Parliament. For millions of us, this is someone we did not vote for and probably don’t agree with.
It isn’t just votes for losing candidates that go to waste thanks to the unbalanced FPTP system. Votes for winning candidates above and beyond what was needed to win a particular constituency also count for nothing. A seat won by a 20,000 vote majority has the same outcome as a seat won by a single vote: both elect just a single MP.
The idea of a minority ruling over the majority goes against our most basic ideas about democracy. But with First Past the Post, it’s the norm. For about 90% of the time since 1935 we’ve had single-party ‘majority’ governments, but not one of them had the support of a majority of voters. The Conservatives currently hold a majority of seats with just 43.6% of the votes. In the 2019 election they gained an extra 48 seats despite an increase of only 1.2% of the vote share. Almost since the first general election, politicians who most of us didn’t vote for and don’t agree with have had the power to govern the UK however they like.
With First Past the Post, Parliament does not reflect the way we vote. It denies millions of people representation of their choosing.
In the 2019 general election, Liberal Democrats, the Brexit Party and the Green Party received 16% (5.2 million) of votes between them, yet they shared just 2% of seats.
It isn’t just who you vote for that decides what your vote is worth under First Past the Post – it’s also where you live. If you live in a ‘safe seat’, where the same party wins every election, your vote is worth very little and parties have every reason to ignore you.
Many seats haven’t changed hands in 100 years and most have no prospect of changing at any given general election. As a result, elections under FPTP are decided by a few thousand swing voters in a small number of marginal constituencies. If just 533 people had voted differently in the 2017 general election, it would have given us a majority government instead of a hung parliament.
As a result, parties and politicians focus their efforts, resources, and even policies on this small number of voters. Campaign spending and activist footfall is higher in marginal seats than in safe seats. Governments have even been found to allocate more public spending to the marginal seats they need to win at the next election.
When so many voters are denied a voice, Parliament fails to reflect the people it is supposed to represent.
So it’s not surprising that FPTP elections suffer from low turnout. Globally, turnout for Proportional Representation (PR) elections is on average 5-8% higher than for FPTP elections.
FPTP often leads to tactical voting in marginal seats. Voters then feel forced into voting against the candidate they most dislike, despite possibly not agreeing with the candidate they are tactically about to vote for. Political parties also try to spread their resources tactically, spending vast amounts of money in constituencies that are known as the ‘key battlegrounds’ that will swing the election.
This bizarre state of affairs would be solved by PR, where there would be no need to vote tactically. Everyone could vote for whoever they believed in without fear of wasting their vote or ‘letting the other side in’.
Proportional Representation in European countries
Almost all European countries use some form of Proportional Representation for their parliamentary electoral systems, although they do differ slightly in some countries. Many patriotic parties in Europe benefit from PR, with some of these parties having large numbers of parliamentary seats and consequently working in government or coalition government.
The UK is unique among European countries in terms of its electoral system – and not in a good way. It’s the only country with a parliamentary system that uses the outdated, ‘one-person-takes-all’ FPTP system.
France is another European country to use a ‘one-person-takes-all’ system (the Two-Round System). Belarus uses a similar system to France.
Despite the system in France being a magnet for tactical voting during the second round because of the Two-Round System, the patriotic National Rally party led by Marine Le Pen continues to be a major force at every type of election. Whether an election is regional, parliamentary or presidential, the National Rally always polls strongly and won the last European election (a PR election) outright in 2019.
An alternative for the UK
Ironically, one of the politicians favourite ‘Buzz’ words is, ‘Diversity’. However, they avoid ‘Diversity’, as much as possible when the prospect of introducing it into the Houses of Parliament is suggested.
With PR, political diversity is reflected in Parliament, not suppressed. PR makes sure the share of seats each party gets matches the share of votes they receive. Using a ‘pure form’ of PR would mean that if a party gets 20% of the vote, it wins 20% of the seats. If a party gets 10% of the vote, it wins 10% of the seats. Parliament would accurately represent the people’s range of views and perspectives.
PR means majority rule, not minority rule. With PR, any government must have a majority of votes behind it – so in order to govern, a party needs to either work collaboratively with other parties, or persuade most of us to vote for it.
The desire for PR in the UK is growing right across the political spectrum. It is used to a limited extent at regional elections in London, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, so why not use it at general elections for the Westminster parliament and to elect local government councillors?