Why do we have to reform our electoral system?
There are at least nine major problems with the UK’s first past the post electoral (FPTP) system.
1 – Because voting is not mandatory, governments are often being formed that only have 25% – 30% of public support, possibly even less if tactical voting is factored in, yet command 100% of the UK’s decision making.
2 – In some instances a party that gains fewer national votes than it’s nearest rival will be declared the winner and allowed to form the government.
3 – The number of votes required to elect a single parliamentarian varies wildly. In the 2015 election UKIP received 3.9m votes and was awarded 1 parliamentarian. In the same election the DUP received 1/20th of the UKIP vote and was awarded 8 parliamentarians, 800% more.
4 – To alter the outcome of a general election in the UK one does not need to alter the national vote, but merely where the arbitrary boundaries between constituencies lie. An electoral system should not be capable of creating two completely different outcomes from the same national vote simply by manipulating abstract boundaries.
5 – The FPTP system unfairly favours larger parties and creates a political monopoly that prevents incoming political competition. This characteristic of FPTP denies voters a real political choice making our country democratically unhealthy.
6 – The nature of FPTP introduces the “safe seat” phenomenon that renders some parliamentarians close to invincible, creating precisely the wrong conditions for propriety and probity.
7 – FPTP effectively forces voters to vote against the political party they favour least rather than for the party they favour most, an aberration known as tactical voting.
8 – Unless the MP you vote for in your constituency is elected your vote has contributed to electing no one and becomes worthless.
9 – The only constituencies that really matter in a general election under FPTP are the marginal constituencies. This encourages political parties to entirely disregard most of the country in their bid for number 10.
Our electoral system must be replaced with a proportional representation (PR) system where the national percentage of votes cast for a political party is directly proportional to the number of parliamentarians they send to parliament.
Detailed reform principles
A – Under PR, political parties can campaign in the same way they do now, fielding local candidates that they believe will attract voters to their party. Constituencies however will no longer exist, as all votes will be counted on a national level.
B – Assuming that the UK has 48m eligible voters and 650 MPs, each political party and independent will gain one MP for every 73,846 votes they achieve on a national level.
C – Should a political party gain the right to send more candidates to parliament than they have fielded in the election they would be required to donate their surplus votes to another party or independent of their choosing. A political party would also be required to donate whatever portion of their vote that remains once they have nominated their full complement of parliamentarians.
D – Should an independent candidate gain more votes than they need to secure their place as a parliamentarian they would be required to donate their surplus votes to another party or independent of their choosing. Should an independent candidate gain fewer votes than they need to secure their place as an MP they would also be required to donate their votes to another party or independent.
E – Deciding which candidates take up posts as parliamentarians will be a matter for each political party however it is likely that each party would position candidates to complement the geographical distribution of their national vote.
F – The total maximum spend during a general election should be no more than £5,000 per candidate that is standing for office, and no more than 650 candidates can stand for a single political party.
G – Each voter shall have a choice of being represented by the nearest parliamentarian of the political party they support, or simply the nearest parliamentarian.
H – All political parties and independent candidates would be required to declare who they intend to nominate votes to in advance of a general election.
I – Voting must become mandatory if we are to bring an end to those with insufficient levels of public support taking political office.
This is an electoral system where every vote counts and every vote is equal.
But isn’t this system too complicated? Voters won’t understand it.
The suggestion that voters have insufficient intelligence to grasp the system described above is insulting. Our public are not stupid, and if voters in other countries around the world are able to understand PR our people can too.
But won’t this system allow extremist parties to enter parliament?
Under our first past the post system a political party can command 100% of the UK’s executive power with only 23% of the national vote. More than any other factor it is this situation that puts the UK at risk from extremist parties and policy making. Under PR it is simply not possible for a party with such a small vote share to command this level of power. Rather than expose the UK to additional risk PR puts it in a safer place than it is now.
But FPTP produces clean, decisive outcomes and avoids messy coalitions doesn’t it?
When politicians argue this point what they are actually saying is that awarding 100% of executive power to a party that only has 23% of the public supporting it is a good thing. They are arguing that it is better to give all political power to a party that hasn’t earned it rather than share power with those who have. They argue that this is vital to expedite decisive, unilateral decisions. They seem unconcerned that the decisive, unilateral decisions being taken usually have no public mandate and are often opposed by 80% of voters.
Coalitions are not messy, they simply prevent any single party from implementing extremist policies. In that sense they are vital. They force parliament to consider a far wider range of views than it currently does and make compromises in areas where there are serious risks. This makes for superior policy making that protects the public and prevents our country being dragged back and forth between idealogical extremes with every new government. It is also worth remembering that FPTP has created two coalitions in the past three elections.
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