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First Past the Post Wins!

April 3, 2020 9:51 PM
By Maggie Kellman, in LibDem Voice

voting slip

Many argue that our political system is broken but why? - is it simply sour grapes from candidates who didn't win?

There is plenty of evidence to show that in the UK a political party can win a majority of seats in government without gaining a majority of votes cast. In the 2005 election for example Tony Blair's government won 355 seats with only 35% of the total votes cast. In contrast the Conservatives won 198 seats having polled 32% of total votes cast.

This imbalance of the "first past the post" election system is further compounded if results of the ballot box and allocation of parliamentary seats are compared to the total number of people who were registered to vote, regardless of whether they did or not. In 2015 for example the Conservatives gained a majority with 36.8 per cent of the votes cast, but -

"… If the measure is then broadened to consider the proportion of support that the party received from the electorate as a whole, the figure plummets to 24.4 per cent. This means that three-quarters of those who were registered to vote did not support the government."
Matthew Bevington: Unrepresentative democracy and how to fix it: the case for a mixed electoral system

Support for electoral reform is not a new idea. John Stuart Mills was an early proponent of the need for proportional representation writing in 1861 that …

"… in an equal democracy, the majority of the people, through their representatives, will outvote and prevail over the minority and their representatives. But does it follow that the minority should have no representatives at all? … Is it necessary that the minority should not even be heard? Nothing but habit and old association can reconcile any reasonable being to the needless injustice. In a really equal democracy, every or any section would be represented, not disproportionately, but proportionately. A majority of the electors would always have a majority of the representatives, but a minority of the electors would always have a minority of the representatives. Man for man, they would be as fully represented as the majority. Unless they are, there is not equal government …"

Chapter VII, Considerations on Representative Government, first published 1861. Free copy available at http://www.gutenberg.org/files/5669/5669-h/5669-h.htm

So "first past the post" does not lead to equal representation, too many people do not have their voices heard. It is time for change, but change is often resisted by those who benefit from current arrangements.

In the 2019 manifesto the Liberal Democrats commit to change the system so that it works for the future writing that "Labour and Conservatives will not change the system that has always entrenched their privileged position. We understand that British politics needs to be reformed to make it more representative and empower citizens".

But to move forward it is imperative that we use every opportunity to share information on proportional representation, to explain why electoral reform is needed and gain maximum support at grassroots level. We cannot rely on saying we want proportional representation, we must explain why and let people reach that conclusion for themselves. And I think that work is needed now.