Britain uses the First Past the Post (FPTP) voting system to elect its MPs. Over the past few hundred years, Britain’s society and democracy have developed and changed beyond recognition. However, despite various changes, our voting system has not kept pace. FPTP is not fit for purpose; we believe we need to change to a system of Proportional Representation. Here’s why:
Distorting the Will of the People
FPTP distorts the results of our elections and means that parliament does not reflect the way that people voted. The 2015 General Election was the most disproportionate in British history and is a shocking example of how our voting system misrepresents the will of the people.
In 2015, 24% of votes cast were for UKIP, the Liberal Democrats or the Green Party. However, these parties now have only 10 MPs between them - just 1.5%. One party, the SNP, received 1.5m votes and won 56 seats in parliament whilst another, UKIP, received 4m votes but just 1 seat in parliament. This isn’t democratic.
Proportional Representation would mean each party’s representation in parliament would match the share of votes they received. Parliament would more accurately represent the wide range of views and perspectives in British society.
2015 General Election: how we voted vs what we got
All votes should be worth the same, right? With FPTP votes are not all equal. General elections are decided by a small minority, based on where they live and who they vote for.
Because of the distorting effect of FPTP, voting for a party that does not have concentrated support means your vote is worth less. As we’ve seen above, votes cast in 2015 for UKIP, the Green Party or the Liberal Democrats were worth far less than those cast for the Conservatives or SNP. In fact, a vote for the SNP was worth 150 times as much as vote for UKIP in 2015.
It’s not just which party you vote for which determines how much your vote is worth but also where you live. If you live in a ‘safe seat’, where the same party wins the seat at every election, your vote is worth very little. Labour voters in the South of England and Conservatives in the North or Wales have votes that are worth much less that their counterparts’ in other areas of the UK.
The results of elections under FPTP are decided by a few thousand swing voters in a small number of marginal constituencies. In the run-up to the 2015 General Election, David Cameron said that just 23 constituencies would decide the result. As a result, politicians concentrate their efforts on these voters as they know they are the key to winning elections.
Proportional Representation would mean every vote would count equally and everyone would have an equal voice. Politicians would work in the interests of the whole country, rather than the few voters who decide the results of elections.
The Electoral Reform Society calculated that 74% of votes cast in 2015 were wasted: cast either for losing candidates or for winning candidates above and beyond the amount needed to win in a particular constituency, they had no impact on the final result of the General Election.
This means the majority of people are locked out of our political process and have no say in how the country is run. Many are forced to vote tactically to avoid wasting their vote. This is unhealthy for democracy. Proportional Representation would mean every vote would matter; everyone would have a voice in how the country is run and see their choices reflected in parliament.
A voting system where every vote matters would increase political participation and encourage higher turnout. It is no wonder that ⅓ of eligible voters in 2015 did not turn out to vote, when so many felt that their votes would be wasted.
It is a fundamental principle of democracy that only a majority can rule. However, our governments typically don’t receive a majority of votes, calling their mandates into question. Between 1931 and 2010, no UK general election produced a government with majority support. A proportional voting system would protect the United Kingdom from being ruled by a minority.
Accountability and Representation
MPs are supposed to represent all of their constituents but we know that this is not the case. In 2015, 331 of 650 MPs were elected on under 50% of the votes in their constituency, and 191 with less than 30% of the electorate. It isn’t the fault of the individual MPs that most of these voters end up being represented by someone they didn’t choose - FPTP is to blame.
A new record was set in Belfast South for an MP elected with the smallest percentage of the vote, just 24.5%. Does an MP elected with such a small share of the vote have a mandate to make decisions on behalf of the whole constituency?
At the other end of the scale, there are safe seats where one party wins a massive share of the vote. In Liverpool Walton, for example, the Labour candidate got 81.3% of the vote. In North East Hampshire, the Conservative candidate got 66% of the vote. There are hundreds of other constituencies like this where one party is so popular that no other candidate has a chance of winning. In these areas, the MP has a job for life. They have no accountability to local people because they know they will always win re-election.
Proportional Representation would mean MPs that more accurately represent the interests of their constituents and are fully accountable to them.
What are the outcomes of a PR system?
Cleaner Politics - Proportional Representation would mean politicians working together, co-operating and coming to a consensus.
More Equal Society - Proportional Representation would mean everyone having an equal voice so politicians would act in the interests of the whole country, rather than a small minority. Countries with PR tend to have lower levels of income inequality.
Fairer Distribution of Public Goods - By giving everyone equal access to political power, PR countries see lower levels of economic inequality and tend to garner higher scores on the United Nation’s Human Development Index.
Gender Equality - Gender balance in parliaments elected by Proportional Representation tends to be much better than in countries using FPTP. Research has found the share of women elected under systems of PR to be 8% higher.
Increased Political Participation - With a system of Proportional Representation in which every vote matters, more people would feel engaged by politics and want to participate. This would increase turnout at elections and encourage education around political issues. Research shows that turnout in countries with proportional systems is at least 5% higher on average - other research shows an even greater increase.
- Taking Environmental Action - Countries with proportional systems scored six points higher on the Yale Environmental Performance Index, which measures ten policy areas, including environmental health, air quality, resource management, biodiversity and habitat, forestry, fisheries, agriculture and climate change.