Make votes Matter

Our system for choosing MPs is broken. Even though the last election was touted as a seismic political change, 71 per cent of voters were still unable to affect its outcome. Political parties of all shades win a majority of seats without a majority of the vote, millions of voters are stuck in “safe seats”, where the same political party always wins. Meanwhile, “wrong winner” elections, where the party with the most votes fails to win the most seats, are easily possible.

It’s clear that this antiquated First Past the Post (FPTP) system is even less fit-for-purpose than it was in the 20th century. In 2015, UKIP and the Greens won 3.8m and 1.1m votes respectively, but only one seat each in the House of Commons. In the devolved nations, strong nationalist parties often result in constituencies being split three ways. In 2019, two-thirds of voters wanted a different MP to the one who was chosen in the Scottish constituency of Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath, a situation familiar to many in both Scotland and Wales.

It is also clear that FPTP fails to deliver the “Strong and Stable” governments it once did. Only one of the four elections since 2005 has produced a strong majority, and current election predictions show that a hung parliament, where no party has a majority of MPs, is likely again when we next go to the polls.

Voters are sick of this already. Polling frequently shows that only a quarter of people support FPTP. Indeed, the UK is increasingly the outlier: aside from us, the only country in Europe to use it for their Parliament is authoritarian Belarus.

Going one step further, it is not even the UK, but rather England, that is trapped in this distorted system. Elections to the devolved assemblies in Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, and even London are done using systems of Proportional Representation. Local elections in NI and Scotland both use PR, and, as of this year, Welsh councils will also be able to opt to scrap FPTP.

Electoral reform, however, is about more than just counting ballots. Research frequently shows that parliaments elected by systems of Proportional Representation look more like the people they represent than those elected by First Past the Post. Their parliaments have twice the number of members under-30, while every country where more than 40 per cent of its MPs are women uses PR.

They also routinely produce better policy, with more effective action on the climate emergency and lower levels of income inequality. Countries with PR even go to war less!

What’s more, recent events have shown just why a more democratic system is needed to choose our representatives. On the one hand, we have seen government money from pots like the Towns Fund and Levelling Up Fund spent in marginal seats, in areas primarily held by MPs from the governing party.  On the other, MPs from primarily safe seats were revealed as the main beneficiaries of the “second jobs scandal”, earning hundreds of thousands of pounds from additional employment. Whether First Past the Post leaves your area electorally volatile or safe as houses, it is us the voters who lose out.

Apart from the UK, the only country in Europe to use First Past The Post in their parliament is authoritarian Belarus

This is why Make Votes Matter was founded: not just to change our voting system, but our politics and our society.

During the 2015 general election, one of our co-founders, Owen Winter, started a petition for a fairer voting system, which gathered over 300,000 signatures. From there, we started local groups, lobbied MPs, and made the case for equal votes to the political parties.

Seven years later, the consensus for Proportional Representation is coming together. The Alliance for Proportional Representation now has a membership of hundreds of celebrities, politicians, and activists, meeting quarterly to discuss the latest developments in the movement for electoral reform.

All of the opposition parties in Britain, with the exception of the Labour Party, are now in favour of PR, and have signed onto Make Votes Matter’s Good Systems Agreement, specifying the necessary qualities for a new voting system, and also a manner of achieving it, “by citizens through an evidence-based, deliberative process”. Last year, 80 per cent of Constituency Labour Party delegates voted for a motion calling for PR, and work is ongoing to win over the trade union movement.

Local groups from Totnes to Tyneside hold regular action days, speaking with people on the street and lobbying their local MPs. And these are in no small number. Earlier this year, over a thousand activists organised by MVM gathered together across the country to say no to the government’s Elections Bill, which extends FPTP to elections for Mayors and Police and Crime Commissioners.

Electoral reform is genuinely within reach, with increasing numbers of MPs from both the Conservatives and Labour openly calling for PR. With an overwhelming majority of Labour members in favour of equal votes, getting it into their manifesto is a real possibility.

However, ending the injustice of FPTP will not happen without irresistible momentum behind it. Politicians elected under a system will always have a bias in favour of retaining it, and renewing our democracy needs to be a priority for voters before it happens. So, join your local MVM branch, write to your local MP, and tell them: the time for equal votes is now.

Make Votes Matter is the national movement for Proportional Representation. More info at makevotesmatter.org.uk

Current Affairs, Main Features

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