Local elections are traditionally a litmus test of the political landscape, a snapshot of voter sentiment. However, these are not normal times. We find ourselves trapped in a post-truth dystopia in which the Prime Minister and his associates habitually lie and gaslight the nation. Twelve years of Conservative rule have wrought unprecedented socio-economic damage, including devastating austerity, a disastrous extreme Brexit, the worst cost of living crisis in living memory and the country confined to their homes while Johnson hosted parties in Downing Street.
It is therefore not surprising that many anticipated a major bloody nose for the Tories in Thursday’s elections. Having lost control of 10 councils and 341 councillors in England alone as of today, this was indeed a disappointing night for the party albeit not the catastrophic wipeout that would have perhaps prompted a flurry of letters from Tory MPs to Sir Graham Brady. The modest gains made by Labour suggest that many are not ready to place their trust in Keir Starmer’s party for the time being. In short, people are disillusioned with the two main parties and their political dominance.
With many voters clearly more willing at this point to vote with their conscience – in this case for the Liberal Democrats or Greens – we have yet further evidence of the urgent need for electoral reform. It is well established that plumping for smaller parties is considered less risky in local elections. Conversely, general elections often force voters to hold their noses to vote for one of the two big players, often despite major ideological disparities. It’s not difficult to understand why. After all, at the last general election, 835,597 Green Party votes secured just one MP. Meanwhile, the SNP scooped 48 seats with 1,242,380 votes. The sad truth is that many people simply don’t feel that their voice counts. In order to amplify it, they are often confronted with a straightforward choice between stubbornly voting by conviction – which often leads nowhere – or going for the ‘less bad’ option.
This should not be acceptable in any self-declared functioning democracy. The fact that both the Conservatives and Labour obstinately cling to the first-past-the-post system as the only means to maintain the balance of power in their favour is symptomatic of the rot at the core of our politics. No party should feel entitled to the alternating role of government or government-in-waiting. The stagnation and inertia this inevitably causes only leads to further voter apathy and a widely-held belief either that voting at all is futile or that a vote for any of the smaller parties is somehow ‘wasted’.
A counter-argument to electoral reform often wielded by FPTP advocates is that proportional representation leads to instability due to a need for coalitions and alliances. One need only look to countries such as Germany and Iceland for examples of vibrant democracies underpinned by PR. Furthermore, it is clear that many Brits have had enough of the uniquely awful brand of combative tribal politics that Westminster represents. Instead, there is a widespread yearning for collaborative governance for the common good and a definitive end to party politics being prioritised over effective representation.
It is clearer than ever that the status quo is failing on the most fundamental level. Democracy dictates that the people should not be limited to local elections in terms of voting for what they truly want and believe in. The need for electoral reform has never been more urgent.