The only thing that is evident from the build-up to this 2015 General Election is that our voting system is no longer fit for purpose, don’t you think? Not only is our ‘first-past-the-post’ system predicted to produce another ‘hung parliament’ (with seemingly only complex possibilities for producing a stable government), but it is abundantly clear that the smaller parties will get fewer MPs than they should be entitled to given their number of supporters.
It is a further scandal & undemocratic that our governments and MPs can get elected when supported by only a third or less of the electorate. Conservatives & Labour parties have fought tooth and nail to keep the current system going as it prevents power passing to the electorate to select fringe parties or independents, so consequently our parliaments do not fairly represent the people at all, do they? [At the last Election ‘two thirds’ of our MPs grabbed a Commons seat with the support of less than half of their voters!].
We urgently need to enact a version of the Single Transferable Vote system [STV was used in some UK university student elections over 50 years ago!] so that no MP gets elected without the support of more than half of their people voting.
You may recall that us Brits were allowed a referendum four years ago to switch to an Alternative Vote method for MP elections to the House of Commons – and that it was unsurprisingly (?) massively rejected by the electorate after a vitriolic and ill informed public debate. Single member constituency AV (which allows second preferences, reduces the need for tactical voting, and hits the number of so called “safe seats”) was offered by the Tories as a sop to the LibDems to encourage them into a Coalition Government in 2010, but knowing that it was in reality a non-runner. For donkey’s years the LibDems have been on a lost-cause, pressing for voting to be changed to the STV system [which can provide ‘proportional representation’ (PR)], as they know it is the ONLY way that smaller parties can get a look-in and fair representation. AV was tabled as a low cost, but not low impact, alternative which can indeed result in MPs gaining greater electoral support but at the expense of and any semblance of PR; the strongest or most supported candidate doesn’t necessarily emerge either – those in the know have deemed it “unacceptably unfair”.
Just look at the fiasco produced by our current FPTP system in today’s Election – it is another carve-up of course for the big boys, Conservative & Labour. They both will poll about a third of the electorate but will each get sixty or seventy more MPs than they deserve. Whereas UKIP at around fifteen percent will get a couple of MPs but will be denied about ninety seats; the ‘in the doldrums’ LibDems if they come in at ten percent will be about fifty MPs short of their true entitlement; the Greens at over five percent will probably get only one MP so will have missed out on another thirty; at the other end of the scale we have the SNP with well under five percent of the vote sending fifty MPs from Scotland to London – double what they deserve. Madness? Fair? Right?
Over the past century Britain has got used to single MP constituencies, so there is some pressure to retain that feature in any UK electoral reform, while at the same time displacing blatant disproportionality with proportional representation. One possible solution would be to use a hybrid STV system whereby the voter votes for a specific constituency candidate using STV (voters rank individual candidates in order of preference and the vote is transferred to the next preference if the candidate is eliminated as the bottom choice, until someone achieves more than half the available votes). Proportionality is then achieved by using a ‘Party List’ to balance up the number of MPs to match the popular support for each Party. The last thing we need in this Country is more MPs of course, so it is essential in any new system to create fewer constituencies and reduce the total number of MPs.
[The shortfalls of the ‘first-past-the-post’ method of UK governmental elections will be compounded by the last Coalition’s switch to a fixed term 5 year parliament, as the new rules will make successful minority government problematic]