The current First Past The Post electoral system is failing to engage the population in politics, is failing to properly represent the desires of the electorate and is failing to allow for anything other than 2 party politics. Proportional Representation would allow for a parliament that truly represents the people that it is elected to work for. 21 out of the 28 European states already have such an electoral system and ours is viewed, from across the continent, as an anomaly – stuck in the 19th century.
PR would result in better representation, as parties will get the number of seats that the population decides (rather than that which the intricacies of the electoral system chooses). The number of votes each party got per seat in the recent 2017 general election only emphasises the unfairness in the current system:
- SNP – 27,931
- DUP – 29,232
- Sinn Fein – 34,131
- Plaid Cymru – 41,117
- The Conservative Party – 42,987
- The Labour Party – 49,154
- The Liberal Democrats – 197,659
- Green Party – 525,435
Whilst the SNP only got 41% of the vote that the Liberal Democrats got, they received 23 more seats. Whilst more than three times as many people voted for the Green Party rather than Plaid Cymru, they only got a quarter of the number of seats.
The First Past The Post System has also given way to a rise in tactical voting. In Norwich South – my own constituency – Clive Lewis (the Labour MP) won by almost double his result from 2015. At the same time the Liberal Democrats (who had the MP from 2010-2015) and the Green Party (for whom the constituency is one of their main target seats), both saw a dramatic decrease in their vote. Labour had created fear about the possibility of a Tory MP winning and thus many, who would have preferred to support either the Lib Dems or Greens, felt compelled to vote Labour. Their voice for the change that they truly wanted was stifled, under PR this problem would have been avoided.
When people feel as though their vote will make no difference to the outcome of an election, it often makes them feel apathetic towards politics: “what’s the point. The Conservatives will win in my seat anyway!” With less than 70% of the electorate having voted in every UK general election so far this century, our current political system is clearly failing to connect with all members of our society. With the knowledge that your vote matters more, you are surely more likely to go to your polling station to cast your ballot. The evidence also suggests that this is true. Austria, Belgium and Denmark are three countries that use PR, but otherwise are not too dissimilar to the United Kingdom. However, they have seen much higher election turnouts; at their most recent national elections Austria saw almost 75% of population vote, Belgium 89.45% and Denmark 85.8%.
Perhaps one of the most common arguments against Proportional Representation is that it often causes coalition governments or minority governments. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, however, as such forms of government necessitate compromise and parties have to work together to achieve consensus. Therefore there is greater scrutiny over the largest party and it means that one party can’t ruthlessly pass anything that they want. For example, during the Liberal Democrat and Conservative coalition the Lib Dems blocked the Tories from abolishing the Human Rights Act, introducing the Snoopers Charter and cutting inheritance tax. If you’re still not convinced about the benefits of coalitions and minority governments, then remember that they happen under the status quo anyway. The Conservatives have just been forced to form a minority government and out of the last 7 years, we’ve had a coalition government for 5.
The Conservatives’ reluctance to change to a different electoral system seems to be due to the benefit that they get from the current one. This sort of major constitutional change will probably be off the public agenda for next few years anyway, with the Brexit negotiations being the primary focus. Hopefully, in the future we will be able to make a positive change to benefit our democracy.