Why the UK should adopt proportional representation

9 Jan 2018

Is there a case for proportional representation for elections in the United Kingdom? My vote has never counted, and perhaps it never will. At least, that is the case under our broken first past the post (FPTP) system. I live in a so-called ‘safe’ seat myself, with the Conservative Party having returned an MP for my constituency since the general election of February 1974, over forty years ago.

 

My vote for a minor party bears no relevance upon the distribution of seats at the general election. There is only one way (generally) for a safe seat to change hands, and that is to vote for the second largest party in your constituency. But why should I vote Labour to unseat the Conservatives? As an egalitarian and a progressive I would much rather vote for a left-leaning candidate to be my MP, but I would rather see a Green or Liberal Democrat as my MP than a Labour candidate.

 

Changing our broken voting system would allow my vote for minor party to make a difference.

 

Of course, there are occasions where a minor party has won a seat from one of the big two parties, such as Caroline Lucas’s repeated success as the Green Party candidate in Brighton Pavilion. However, this is a rare occurrence.

 

As has been argued, FPTP favours the two-party system. This is partly because it prevents minority, and even extremist parties from gaining seats. The argument that FPTP always produces a clear result has been put to the test in the last decade, as evinced by the 2010 and 2017 elections. One of the strengths of the current system is the constituency link, in which the electorate knows who their MP is. However, some models of proportional representation, such as the Single Transferable Vote (STV) maintain a constituency link while being more proportional.

 

Another popular argument in favour of keeping the broken status quo is that voters rejected changing it six and a half years ago. I find the validity of this argument to be an inadequate excuse to prevent replacing FPTP with some form of proportional representation. 67.9% of voters in 2011 rejected adopting the alternative vote (AV) system, but this is not an endorsement of FPTP. It was merely the electorate suggesting that the current system is better than the AV system. Take note that the turnout was incredibly low in the referendum at 42.2%, and since then great injustices have arisen in subsequent general elections.

 

Why should a party such as the Conservatives who received 42.2% of the vote share win 48.8% of the seats at the 2017 general election, yet the Liberal Democrats who received 7.4% of the vote had only a 1.8% share of the seats? I find it to be an incredible injustice that some people’s votes count and others do not. The United Kingdom Independence Party received 12.6% of the vote share in the 2015 general election, yet only returned 1 MP (around 0.2% of seat share in the House of Commons).

 

A proportional representation system can fix this issue. Although the electorate rejected the AV system, many other voting systems under proportional representation exist. Single Transferable Vote, party list PR and mixed member proportional representation are among the most commonly used systems.

 

Using a proportional representation voting method may not fix all the issues with our broken electoral system, but surely it must be a step in the right direction. If Scotland and Northern Ireland can use the Single Transferable Vote for their local government elections, why can’t the rest of the UK adopt this system and become a generally more proportional country.

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