Is It Time For Electoral Reform In The UK?

With the last general election resulting in a majority Conservative government with only 36.9% of the vote, the demand for a new voting system in the UK has increased.

The current voting system, First Past the Post, saw the Conservatives take more than 50% of the seats in parliament but with less than 40% of the vote. It also saw the Greens and UKIP take one seat each but with 3.8% and 12.6% of the vote, respectively.

Since then, the Electoral Reform Society handed in a petition to 10 Downing Street with almost half a million signatures, including those from five major politcal parties: the Greens, UKIP, Plaid Cymru, the SNP and the Liberal Democrats, demanding the Prime Minister to “make voting reform a reality in this Parliament”.

Theo Von Prondzynski said, on behalf of the Conservatives: “The British electorate overwhelmingly voted to retain the First Past the Post voting system in 2011 and the Conservative Party strongly believes that this was the right decision”.

In 2011, the British electorate were given the chance to switch to a different general election voting system, Alternative Vote, through a national referendum. The result was 32.1% of people voting for it and 67.9% voting against, with a voter turnout of only 42.2%. But there are plenty of other types of voting systems that are proportional representation.

Josiah Mortimer, from the Electoral Reform Society said: “The refendum in 2011 was on a non-proportional system, the Alternative Vote. We supported a shift for AV because it was an electoral reform, but it certainly wasn’t anywhere near to what it needs to be to catch up with every other European country in terms of fairness of voting”.

The Electoral Reform Society is pushing for the Single Transferable Vote to replace FPTP. This style of voting is currently being used for the Irish Dail elections, Scottish local authority elections, the Northern Irish Assembly elections as well as the Local and European elections in Northern Ireland.

Unlike FPTP, both STV and AV give voters the opportunity to mark candidates in order of preference. With AV, if the candidate with the highest number of votes recieves less than 50% of the overall vote, then the candidate who recieved the lowest number of votes will be struck from the list and all the ‘second choices’ on the ballot papers where that candidate had been picked first will recieve the extra votes. This process is continued with ‘third choices’ and ‘fourth choices’ etc until a candidate recieves more than 50% of the overall vote. That candidate is then elected into parliament.

STV is similar to AV but with multi-member constituencies. This way voters are more likely to end up represented by the party they support.

Mortimer said about STV: “One thing is it retains the constituency link, you have a number of local MPs that you can go to and they work together, and what we have seen in Scotland is that it creates much better results for the voters because these MPs and councillors are competing to be the best and represent their constituents better than the rest”

But with the result of the last referendum, the Conservative Party are not focused on having another referendum on electoral reform. Mortimer said: “There was the 2011 referendum on the Alternative Vote and for many people it came out of the blue, and if we are going to shift to a fairer system then we really need to have a national conversation amongst citizens about it”.

Prondzynski responded to the idea of a national conversation by saying: “The Conservative Party believes that the matter was settled with the AV referendum”.

The Electoral Reform Society remain optimistic, with Mortimer saying: “party politics has changed so much in the space of four years; if you watched the TV debates, with seven leaders going head to head, for the first time you can see how much more diverse our politics has become”.

Although, since the last general election, more people are demanding electoral reform, it is going to be a tough battle to convince the current government after the result of the last referendum.

By Jonathan Pickles

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