This week is the first National Democracy Week – a rare moment to put the ‘nuts and bolts’ of democracy on the agenda.
The elections of the past year have shown that Westminster’s First Past the Post system is failing at the lowest democratic hurdle – allowing everyone to participate equally in our politics.
One in five people felt forced to ‘hold their nose’ and opt for a lesser evil rather than their preferred candidate in 2017’s General Election.
68% of votes had no impact on the result – going to either unsuccessful candidates or being ‘surplus to requirements’. Under the Westminster’s system, all that is required for victory is a majority of one.
And the system is exaggerating divisions in the UK – Labour secured 29% of the vote in the South East but got just 10% of seats, while the Conservatives won 34% of the North East vote but got just 9% of seats.
This isn’t some anomaly – this is built into a stone-age system where having one more cross in the box than the rest is all that counts: every other vote goes to waste.
But Westminster’s system can’t even do what it says on the tin – produce ‘strong’ single-party government. The Conservatives were required to make an agreement with the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) to ensure it could govern with any degree of reliability.
These serious flaws in the Westminster system are why today, during the first National Democracy Week, we are marking the relaunch of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Proportional Representation.
This will see MPs from across the political spectrum meet to support a change in the voting system – to one which better matches seats in the House of Commons to how people actually voted.
It will be chaired by Labour MP Daniel Zeichner, joined by Martyn Day MP (SNP), Wera Hobhouse MP (Liberal Democrat), Jeremy Lefroy MP (Conservative), Caroline Lucas MP (Green), Lord Warner (Crossbench) and Hywel Williams MP (Plaid Cymru) as Vice-Chairs. This is a powerful cross-party coalition for change.
We know that while the existing Westminster system may be all that many voters in England have ever known, it is far from the only way. There are much better options.
Every new democratic institution created in the past two decades has, in fact, rejected First Past The Post. Voters in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland (and indeed, in most modern democracies) are all used to more proportional systems – seeing their voices properly and fairly reflected in the corridors of power, and with seats matching votes. (For more information on the alternatives see here)
Yet Westminster’s creaking voting system is stuck in the dark ages.
National Democracy Week has been launched with the noble intention that “regardless of who we are or where we are from, we must work together to ensure that every member of society has an equal chance to participate in our democracy and to have their say.”
Let us recognise that the ‘one-party-takes-all’ system does not achieve this. It was designed for another age – and doesn’t work today.
Let’s move towards a democratic system built for our time: where everyone’s voice is heard. That, surely, would be fitting progress to mark the first National Democracy Week.