Proportional Representation-One Person, One Vote That Counts!
I have just about recovered from the results of the UK General Election in 2015 (no, I haven’t) but am very nervous for the upcoming local elections on Thursday 4th May (ruining Star Wars Day, thanks!). In the general election the Conservative party ended up with a majority having received 36.7% of the votes cast in total, which represents 24% of those who are actually registered to vote. 12% more people chose not to vote at all than chose to vote for the party that now controls the United Kingdom (even with Northern Ireland and Scotland having devolved, funding and much policy still derives from the London-based Parliament). The current make-up of the House of Commons can be found by clicking here.
It rapidly became clear that the number of seats won did not reflect the amount of votes cast for each party. That is how our First-Past-The-Post voting with its unevenly-populated electoral borough for each MP system works. In other words, and as I have written before, it doesn’t. Moreover, this situation has been steadily worsening for decades. There has not been a government formed by a party who have achieved a clear majority vote since 1931. To put that into more perspective that is only 3 years after there were finally equal voting rights for men and women in the United Kingdom.
Six years ago there was a referendum to decide if we would stick with FPTP or move to an Alternative Vote (AV) system, in which preferred candidates are ranked according to preference, and votes are counted until one candidate receives a majority of all votes cast. This is the system used by many of the political parties to elect their leadership – UKIP, Labour, Lib Dem, Green Party, and the Conservatives, who use a series of FPTP votes which seems to me to be AV in a more costly format. I could not find the relevant information for Plaid Cymru, SNP, Democratic Unionists or Ulster Unionists without joining, but please do research for yourselves!
The No vote won this simple Yes/No choice, but the reasons varied from those who did not understand AV to those who wished to retain FPTP to those who believed a vote for AV would mean never getting Proportional Representation. Only 41% of registered voters exercised their right to choose Yes or no on AV. I say it is time for a Yes/No vote on Proportional Representation.
Simply put, proportional representation would mean that each party receives a percentage of seats in parliament equal to the percentage of votes cast by the electorate for that party. So if a party got 20% of the vote, they would receive 20% of the seats. If this system were in place now, then UKIP would have 99 MPs and the Green Party would have 37 MPs, instead of the one apiece they have.
Proportional Representation needs careful thought. A significant factor is that MPs would be selected by parties for seats in the Houses of Parliament meaning they would not be representative of the local areas any more. Constituencies would not be required, and this needs to be addressed if people are going to feel they are represented and they have somewhere to take grievances or issues. There must be clear guidance on the issues and delineation as to local/national decisions must be put in place before PR is enacted.
Local councils and Mayors would need to be elected separately as they are now, but with specific remit to represent their constituents to Parliament. For example, if there were objections to a bypass being built through a village to circumvent a town, then the local government would be able to represent its people in any objections there may be, and they would have the devolved powers to do so. Parliament published a summary of proposals for devolution to local government in England on 20th May 2015, and this can be accessed here.
It is very important that local government will be able to hold central government accountable for its actions; each must be the other’s arbiter. This is also why we must retain our rights under the European Convention of Human Rights, so that citizens have a place of appeal beyond that of local and central government.
The move to proportional representation is not one to be taken lightly. It will mean that parties you do not agree with will gain seats, as well as those you do. However, if we are to have a fairer electoral system we must accept that those we disagree with have an equal right to be heard. Who knows what the results of a PR election may be though? Tactical and protest voting will no longer be necessary as there will be candidates across the country for whom you may vote; each person will have the same parties to vote for. It must be a system in which the smallest marginal party can stand next to the largest national party. Specific local issues will be dealt with under specific local government.
This will be a massive undertaking and the UK government is scheduled to debate the introduction after a recent petition on the government website reached over 103,000 signatures before closing at midnight on Thursday 6th April 2017.
Political and constitutional reform demands nothing less than intimate, forensic-level research and implementation. However difficult and complicated the shift to Proportional Representation may be, it cannot be less fair than the system under which we currently operate. Put simply, Proportional Representation needs to happen.