Conservatives General Election 2017 Labour Politics UKIP

Why The UK Needs Electoral Reform

Time to say goodbye to first past the post?

Rowena Squires

Naked Politics Blogger 

Once again, we have a hung parliament. Theresa May’s disastrous campaign and wheat naughtiness resulted in the Conservatives losing 13 seats and their overall majority. But the Conservatives percentage of votes this Election actually increased by 5.5%. So how did the Conservatives end up losing seats if over two million more people voted for them in 2017 compared to 2015? The answer lies in our first-past-the-post (FPTP) system.

What is First-Past-The-Post?

This is the voting system the UK currently uses to elect the National Government. The way it works is simple. The UK is divided into 650 constituencies and in each constituency the candidate with the most votes is elected MP of that area. There is no minimum percentage of votes required, all you need to be elected is at least one more vote than your opponent- just take a look at Fife where the SNP defeated the Liberal Democrats by only two votes!

Problems with First-Past-The-Post

Whilst the system is undoubtedly simple and easy, it is grossly unfair and we often end up with a Parliament we did not vote for. Under F-P-T-P some parties will receive a lot of votes but gain few or no MPs; UKIP being a prime example. Regardless of personal political views, I don’t think anyone can deny that UKIP receiving 594,068 votes this Election (1.8% of all votes) and having 0 MPs is unreflective and unfair. Although, this is nowhere near as bad as the 1 MP UKIP gained in 2015, despite receiving 3,881,099 votes (12.6% of all votes)!

Additionally, whilst F-P-T-P benefits certain parties such as the SNP and DUP, it is an extremely inconsistent system that penalises other parties. Compare the results of the SNP and Liberal Democrats. The 977,569 votes for the SNP resulted in 35 SNP MPs, but the 2,371,910 votes for the Lib Dems resulted in just 12 MPs. Consequently, each Lib Dem seat required 197,659 votes, whilst for the SNP it was only 27,930 votes per seat. Such statistics prove F-P-T-P is flawed, prompting pleas for it to be replaced with proportional representation (PR).

How does Proportional Representation work?

Under PR the number of seats a party gets corresponds with the proportion of the total number of votes they receive, so if Labour received 38% of all votes, then 38% of all MPs will be Labour. Therefore, with PR every vote counts and holds equal weight.

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The most commonly used form of PR is the Party List System, which the UK uses for European Parliamentary elections. This system does not allow you to vote for a specific candidate for your area, but instead you vote for a party, and it is the parties who creates a list of candidates and decides who from their party will be elected. So, if Labour won 40% of the vote, then the first 40% of candidates on their list will be elected. However, the Party List System should not be implemented for the UK General Election as it will remove the link between an MP and constituency, as constituencies will receive a random MP to ‘represent’ them. But, we clearly cannot continue to use F-P-T-P either, so what should the UK do? Luckily, I have a solution.

Additional Member’s System (AMS): the only viable option

The Additional Member’s System (AMS), which is currently used for the Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly, allows voters to have two votes; a party vote and candidate vote. Just like the current system, the candidate with the most votes is elected MP for that area. Meanwhile, the party votes across the country are counted, and once all MPs are declared, it is calculated how many more MPs (and of which parties) are required to make Parliament proportionally representative of the UK’s party vote. For example, if Conservative MPs made up 20% of Parliament but Conservatives received 25% of the party vote, then additional members (hence the name!) of Conservatives would be added to Parliament so they made up 25%.

Whilst this system (like all voting systems) is quite complicated and has it flaws- most noticeably that some MPs will be in Parliament without representing a constituency- AMS is still the only viable solution to our current undemocratic democracy.  Unlike the Party List System, AMS will maintain the relationship between an MP and their constituency. In fact, due to also having a party vote, AMS will encourage strong local champions, as people will be more inclined to vote for the candidate best for their area. Additionally, the party vote aspect means every vote counts, and Parliament will actually look like what the UK votes for. Despite its flaws, AMS provides the best of both worlds.

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