Voting Reform

vote-toss

The results of the General Election have thrown up some intriguing uncertainties. For example, will the SNP’s unprecedented success precipitate the break up of the UK?

But one thing is certain from the results: the voting system needs to be changed in time for the next General Election.

Consider this. The UK Independence Party received almost four million votes. That’s the third highest and a total 12.6% share of the vote. Yet the party only received one seat in Parliament. Yet 12.6% of the 650 House of Commons is 82 seats!

Whatever you may think of UKIP, this is a travesty and makes a mockery of any notion of British “democracy”.

But it’s not just UKIP who were done over by our voting system.

The LibDems got two and a half million votes, a 7.9% share. Yet they received 1% of the seats.

The Greens gained 1.15 million votes, a 3.8% share. They only received a single seat.

On the other hand, the SNP got 50% of the vote in Scotland, yet a whopping 95% of all seats! Not quite as dramatic, but the Conservatives won 51% of the seats on a mere 36.9% of the vote.

And bear in mind that 33.9% of the eligible population didn’t even vote! That means the Conservatives were only supported by 24% of the voting age population, yet got more than half the seats.

Our system really is winner takes all.

A lot of people I’ve been speaking to have been really quite confused. So I’ll explain our system.

The country is divided into voting areas (constituencies). Whichever candidate gets the most votes in any area wins that seat. Everyone else gets nothing. This was UKIP’s problem: they came second in 120 seats nationwide! But first in one seat is better than second in a hundred under our system.

Perhaps in the era of two party politics, our current system worked well (for example, in the 1950 General Election, the Conservatives and Labour respectively gained 40% and 46.1% of the vote and 35.2% and 46.1% of the seats). But we no longer exist in that era, and never will again. So it’s time to change.

The only arguments in favour our system are that it’s easy to understand and produces stable government. Well, I think the idea our politics is stable is now laughable. And easy to understand? How can anyone understand a party receiving 12.6% of the vote getting a mere 0.15% of the seats?

The system needs to change. That is clear. But change to what? There are so many alternatives that the mind boggles.

Luckily for us, however, the UK has been engaged in numerous pilot schemes trialling different voting systems for a while now.

  • In the London Assembly, Welsh Assembly, and Scottish Parliament, the Additional Member System is used. It is semi-proportional; winners are chosen as in the General Election, but there are extra seats for each area which are awarded proportionally.
  • The London Mayor is selected by the Supplementary Vote system. Everyone picks their first choice and second choice. If no one candidate receives 50% of the vote, then all candidates except the top two are eliminated, and all second preference votes are redistributed. The candidate with most votes after these supplementary votes are added is the winner.
  • European Parliament elections are done according to the d’Hondt method which, more-or-less accurately, gives a proportional share of seats based on share of vote. For example, in the 2014 European Parliament Elections, the percentage of votes/seats won was: UKIP 26.6/32.88, Labour 24.43/27.40, Conservative 23.05/26.03, Green 6.91/4.11, SNP 2.37/2.74, and so on.
  • In London council elections, each ward elects up to three representatives.
  • There are many other systems in use in the UK. See here for all the details.

Clearly, no voting system is perfect (this is actually scientific fact: just see New Scientist‘s article if you don’t believe me), but we need to make votes count. Some ways include more even-sized constituencies so each vote is equally valuable, instant easy right to sack any MP / call a by-election, direct voting by the population, easily triggerable referenda, and so on. But changing the electoral system is key.

My proposal

Whilst I don’t want to break the link between MP and constituency, nor introduce two kinds of MP, I think the best solution is either a proportional system based on voting regions, e.g., the four nations or sub-regions thereof, or a London-style Additional member system with the current system supplemented by proportional elected regional MPs.

The 2015 General Election results were a travesty and a miscarriage of justice. Indeed, they were a farce. Let’s move into the twenty-first century.

© 2015 Bryan A. J. Parry

References
Full results: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/election/2015/results

Scottish Parliament Electoral System: http://www.scottish.parliament.uk/visitandlearn/Education/16285.aspx
European Parliament Electoral System: http://www.europarl.org.uk/en/your_meps/european_elections/the_voting_system.html
Other voting systems used in the UK: http://www.parliament.uk/about/how/elections-and-voting/voting-systems/
European Parliament Election Results 2014: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/European_Parliament_election,_2014_(United_Kingdom)
New Scientist on the impossibility of fair elections: http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg20627581.400-electoral-dysfunction-why-democracy-is-always-unfair.html#.VVYou2dFCM8

Featured image from http://www.silverbearcafe.com/private/06.11/images/vote-toss.jpg

 

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