Wednesday, 14 April 2010

Why we need electoral reform

After posting yesterday’s musings it occurred to me that a little bit of explanation might be necessary about why I think our current electoral process needs a makeover.

We currently use the First Past The Post, winner takes all system. Sounds good doesn’t it? A clear distinction between a winner and the losers, a bit like the Grand National. In practice however it is, more often than not, a very unfair system.

Let’s take the 1997 Election for example, when Blair got a whopping majority. In ‘97 it took circa 32,000 votes to elect a Labour MP. I arrived at this figure by taking the total number of votes cast for Labour, namely 13,518,167, and dividing it by the total number of MPs elected, namely 418. By way of comparison it took, 58,187 votes to elect a Conservative MP.

But the real disparity comes with the Liberal Democrats for whom it took a whopping 113,976 votes to get one of their MPs elected. The Liberals took 16 per cent of the popular vote across the country (5.25 million voters) but got less than 7 per cent of the seats. A fair division of the seats based on the popular vote would have given the Liberals approximately 105 seats. By way of comparison, the Labour Party got 43.2 per cent of the popular vote which delivered 63 per cent of the seats available.

Why such a disparity? Because First Past The Post rewards the winner with nothing for those who come in second. What the Liberals do is rack up a huge number of second place finishes across the whole country. For example, in the North of England with its traditional Labour stronghold seats, the Liberals come in second behind Labour because the Conservative Party is regarded in many areas as a bunch of toffs. Equally, however, they also come in second in traditional Tory stronghold areas, like the Shire counties, where Labour is still regarded as a bunch of trade union dominated revolutionaries.

So what I hear you cry, there’s nothing in life for losers! Except that we have a huge block of moderate centrist voters who diligently cast their vote in constituencies across the country and are totally unrepresented. What’s more, many voters are put off voting Liberal because they know that under the current system they have no chance of forming a Government (the two major parties are always quick to point this one out, “it’s a wasted vote”). The question is, what would the Liberal vote be like if they actually had a chance?

The current system is directly responsible for much of our national cynicism about politics. It produces two entrenched camps who squabble and swap power between them oblivious to the need for national consensus. It led indirectly to some of the most controversial policies of the last thirty years like the Poll Tax and the Iraq War. With huge majorities and the whipping system there was nothing to stop either Thatcher or Blair committing to both.

I worry about a hung Parliament in the short term, particularly in terms of its affect on the economy. However, it might just prod either of the two major parties to do what, deep down, they know they should do anyway. Get rid of this outdated and unfair system.


Post a Comment