Boundary changes are a symptom, not the cause, of unfair elections

14 Sep 2018

 

The new boundary changes have finally been announced and, as expected, there has been justified outrage regarding the outcome they’ll have on the electoral chances of the two main parties.

 

As highlighted by Election Maps UK, if the last election was repeated on the basis of the new boundaries, the Conservatives would have had a 16 seat majority, totaling 76 more seats than Labour despite a difference of only 2.4% in their vote share.

 

However, while it is right for criticism to be made at how utterly unjust that is, the boundary changes are simply a symptom (and therefore distraction) of a much deeper problem: our archaic voting system.

 

In the 2017 General Election, 68.4% of votes cast had no impact at all on the final result. This figure was far worse in 2015, with 74.4% of votes wasted. As such, it’s no surprise that people increasingly feel that their votes do not matter. First Past The Post (FPTP) intrinsically disenfranchises the electorate, fuels political apathy and erodes people’s trust in elections, as well as the people who they elect.

 

So what is the alternative? Proportional Representation.

 

PR ensures that everyone has an equal vote and voice so that it is no longer only those who live in marginal seats that have votes which matter. It eradicates the blight of wasted votes and as a result cuts through political apathy, with turnout for elections using PR rather than FPTP being 5-8% higher on average.

 

Perhaps above all though, the introduction of PR, would be a mechanism for which we can begin to detoxify politics, rebuild trust with the public, and finally work together in the national interest to find solutions to the problems of the future, whether they be Brexit, funding of the NHS, or the fight against extremism.

 

This is because PR combats polarisation of political debate by encouraging politicians to find consensus, rather than forcing parties to constantly attack and disgrace one and other.

 

 

Often, the first argument made against PR is that it cuts the constituency link, causing the electorate to feel like they have no local link to their MP. Yet FPTP frequently leads to a result in which most voters in a constituency have an MP that they did not vote for. This is seen right across the country, yet a particularly stark example is the constituency of Ceredigion which has a Plaid Cymru MP which 70.8% of voters did not support.

 

Likewise, it is simply a myth to argue that PR cannot retain the constituency link. A system such as Single Transferable Vote (STV) would allow that link to be maintained, while also ensuring that the majority of constituents in all areas feel they have representation in Parliament.

 

Furthermore, various studies have found that countries with PR produce a more diverse and representative legislature, with more BAME and women candidates being elected. This also means that the public, regardless of background, feel represented in Parliament.

 

Two further myths regarding PR can also be rebuffed. The first, that PR leads to unstable coalition governments, simply is not supported by the statistics. For example, according to the Fragile Status Index of 2017, the five most stable countries all use proportional representation. Furthermore, it is becoming increasingly problematic to describe US or UK politics as stable, despite both using a FPTP system.

 

The second myth lies in the idea that using PR results in extremists being elected to Parliament and gaining power. It is, in fact, FPTP with cultivates extremism, by handing power to a party which has minority support in the country. By stripping voters of their voice, it enforces political disillusionment and pushes voters to extremes.

 

PR, on the other hand, does allow extremists to win seats, but often this results in them being exposed as incompetent or insincere. Finally, when extremists do win a significant number of seats, as has recently happened both in the Netherlands and Sweden, the other parties rule out any coalition with them regardless, making it clear that their values are not the values which the majority of the country share.

 

Now is the time to implement radical reform of our voting system. Although it is true that there will likely be fierce opposition from the Conservative Party due to the electoral advantage FPTP gifts them, it is time that Labour backs such a proposal if it is to truly fight “for the many, not the few”.

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