First Past the Post locks many talented people out of politics

Doug Cowan, Head of Digital

Posted on the 11th August 2023

This week, Politics Home reported that Regional Tories Are Snubbing Parachuted MP Candidates In Favour Of “Local Champions”. It seems that number of Conservative candidates with a background in local government is increasing at each election, from one in three new candidates in 2017 to half in 2019 and is only set to increase as candidates are selected for 2024.

Of course, this trend is not unique to the Conservatives, candidates from all parties will often make claims about their lifelong connection to the constituency. and it’s clear why, when asked, voters regularly say they want local candidates.

Talented people excluded from parliament

But, while every part of the UK has supporters of every major party, due to First Past the Post each party only has a limited number of winnable seats. Talented people with a connection to their seat are found across the country. The problem is that with the limited number of winnable seats; many of those with skills that would help the country have to move house if they actually want to enter parliament.

This makes it even harder for people that can’t easily pack up their lives due to caring or work commitments.

How many people of the calibre that we need to lead future governments are excluded from ever setting foot in Westminster because they have a lifelong connection to a seat their party would never stand a chance of winning?

Shaping the make-up of parliamentary parties

This also goes to shape the make-up of parliamentary parties themselves. Both the Labour Party and the Conservatives won significantly fewer MPs in Scotland than their level of support in the country would suggest they deserved. Both parties are then more English in Westminster than their support base is. This inevitably leads to a lack of Scottish voices and representation in their internal discussions.

Likewise, urban Conservative voters and rural labour voters are left underrepresented in their own parties. Without a voice in the room, their concerns aren’t being properly represented. Nobody should have to move house to get elected when there are plenty of supporters where they live.

The solution is proportional representation

When we modelled the results of the 2019 general election under the fair and proportional Single Transferable Vote (STV) system, we found that nearly every seat had enough voters to elect at least one Conservative and one Labour MP. Overnight, it would become possible for most people to run for parliament in the seat they grew up in or live in now.

It will always be harder for candidates from parties with fewer supporters to get elected. But under First Past the Post their vote share is often lower than their actual support due to tactical voting. With the Single transferable Vote, where you can just vote for who you want, smaller candidates will get a real view of their support, which they can work to build on in the next election.

The way we elect MPs to Westminster means that our parliament doesn’t represent Britain. When Parliament doesn’t represent public opinion it has a real impact on life in Britain – it’s time we made sure seats matched votes to put voters back in control.

Add your name to our call for proportional representation

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