By Zack Polanski
Our voting system is broken.
How’s that? Well, do most members of the public know that 71 per cent of votes at the last General Election didn’t affect the final representation in Parliament? Does the average member of the public know that in Europe, only Britain and Belarus (a brutal dictatorship) still use a First Past the Post voting system? Does the average member of the public know that for about 90 per cent of the time since 1935 we’ve had single-party ‘majority’ governments, but not one of them has had the support of a majority of voters?
The UK fails the basic tests of democracy.
Why should it be that a quarter of voters feel compelled to vote against their least favourite candidate, instead of for their favourite? Why should it be that political parties fight to win a few target seats while ignoring the rest of us? Why should it be that so many voters feel totally powerless, watching on as decisions about how their country is run are mostly made against the wishes of the majority? That’s no way to run a democracy.
Make Votes Matter
Enter Make Votes Matter: the UK’s national movement for Proportional Representation. This week they have published a powerful new video which I was delighted to be involved with featuring a series of journalists, public figures and high profile, cross-party politicians calling for the urgent changes that our broken voting system so desperately needs.
This Alliance, made up of organisations, individuals and political parties from across the political spectrum, boasts nearly every political party in the UK including, among others, the Green Party, the Liberal Democrats, the SNP, Plaid Cymru, WEP and Reform UK.
And it’s not just the parties who agree.
Earlier this year, a poll commissioned by Labour for a New Democracy found that a majority of the public are in favour of Proportional Representation. Indeed, when asked: “Do you support or oppose such a system (PR)?”, 52 per cent of respondents agreed, while only 17 per cent were opposed (with 31 per cent saying they ‘didn’t know’).
With COP26 in full swing, it feels like a real turning point in the UK for people calling for a government that champions democracy and peace, increases equality and takes effective action on the escalating climate emergency.
Labour and the Conservatives
This just leaves the question of the two remaining parties in Britain – Labour and the Conservatives.
So, where does Keir Starmer’s Labour Party stand on First Past the Post and Proportional Representation? Well, at Labour’s Party Conference in September, despite the overwhelming support of local party delegates (80 per cent of whom supported the motion for Labour to back PR), due to opposition from several of the party’s affiliated trade unions, which have not all yet been won over, the motion was narrowly defeated.
The motion, backed by the Labour for a New Democracy coalition, had been submitted by around 150 Constituency Labour Parties (CLPs) – the highest number for one topic in living memory.
A few weeks later, one of the unions who had opposed the motion as they didn’t have policy for PR, Unite, voted to adopt a policy of opposing First Past the Post and instead supporting moves to explore, select and introduce a new voting system for the UK.
Speaking after the vote Sharon Graham, Unite’s General Secretary said, “Today, Unite Policy Conference voted to support Proportional Representation in Westminster elections for the first time in our history. “Our political class has failed working people and our system is broken. It is time to change our democracy.”
With Unite on board, the majority of the Labour movement is now in support of equal votes, and it is just a matter of time before PR becomes Labour Party policy.
Level down democracy
So that just leaves Boris Johnson’s Conservative Party, who, right now, are attempting to level down our democracy by extending First Past the Post to positions historically elected under a fairer system. If you live in England or Wales, the UK Government is trying to impose First Past the Post on you every time you vote for directly-elected mayors or Police and Crime Commissioners.
Perhaps Boris Johnson should note the words of his hero, Winston Churchill, who, in June 1931 wrote: “Having to choose… between the Alternative Vote, the Second Ballot and Proportional Representation…, I have no doubt whatever that the last is incomparably the fairest, the most scientific and, on the whole, the best in the public interest”.
We need real democracy so that we can have a say in how the country is run.
Most people and parties want equal votes. Together, we can make votes matter.
It’s time for real democracy.