50th anniversary of the Representation of the People Act: It’s time for a fairer franchise, say campaigners

Posted on the 15th April 2019

The Electoral Reform Society is calling for changes to Westminster’s ‘broken voting system’, ahead of the 50th anniversary of the Representation of the People Act receiving Royal Assent on Wednesday [1].

The ERS believe it is time for Westminster to join Scotland in giving the vote to 16- and 17-year olds, and plan to reignite the debate about adopting a proportional voting system.

Moves are already underway in Wales to extend the voting age [2]. Legislation is also being planned there to allow councils to introduce a fairer electoral system, moving away from first-past-the-post politics.

Earlier this month MPs in the Commons debated extending the vote to 16- and 17-year olds, with broad cross-party support [3]. Now the ERS are calling on the government to get behind the plans.

High profile Conservatives including Nicky Morgan and Sir Peter Bottomley, and former Chancellor George Osborne back extending the vote, as outlined in a Civic Duty: The Conservative Case for Votes at 16 and 17 published by the ERS last year [4].

Recent analysis by the Hansard Society shows nearly two-thirds of respondents feel our system of governing needs ‘quite a lot’ or ‘a great deal of improvement’ and 75% say the main political parties are so divided within themselves that they cannot serve the best interests of the country [5].

Current polling also places support for parties other than the ‘Big Two’ at around 40% – yet Westminster’s two-party voting system is struggling to cope. The ERS predict the next election will be effectively a ‘lottery’, with volatile voting and random results, as votes are split between many parties.

Last week a cross-party group of MPs published a united call for votes at 16/17 for the UK [6].

Darren Hughes, Chief Executive of the Electoral Reform Society, said:

“On the 50th anniversary of extending the vote to 18-year olds, it is now time to learn from the success of votes at 16 in Scotland and embrace a fairer franchise for the whole UK.

“When they vote, 16- and 17-year olds actually have higher rates of turnout in Scotland than 18-24-year olds. In the 2014 Scottish independence referendum turnout among 16-18-year-olds was 75%, with 97% of those who voted saying they would vote in future elections.

“Evidence has shown that they accessed more information ahead of the vote from a wider variety of sources than any other age group – showing that 16-year-olds are more than ready to engage in the democratic process in an enthusiastic and informed way.

“It is also time to reignite the debate about moving to a fairer electoral system. Two-party First Past the Post politics is not working for voters or this country, as the current Brexit deadlock has highlighted. The existing system is meant to produce ‘strong and stable’ government – but the reality is that voters want to ‘shop around’ more than ever, meaning the system is unable to cope. The result is volatile voting leading to random results – and increasing disillusionment among voters.

“A proportional voting system would not only give voters real choice but would encourage parties to work together – helping to mend the huge fissures in our society. Adopting the model for local elections in Scotland and Northern Ireland would ensure every vote counts and revitalise politics for good.

“MPs should use this anniversary as a chance to reflect on what is working – and what clearly isn’t – and start to mend Westminster’s broken politics.”

Next week MPs will host a Westminster Hall debate on moving to a more proportional voting system for Westminster.


Notes to Editors

[1] https://api.parliament.uk/historic-hansard/acts/representation-of-the-people-act-1969

[2] https://www.electoral-reform.org.uk/legislation-introduced-to-extend-the-right-to-vote-to-16-and-17-year-olds-in-wales/

[3] https://www.electoral-reform.org.uk/latest-news-and-research/media-centre/press-releases/votes-at-16-back-on-the-agenda-as-mps-debate-extending-the-franchise/

[4] https://www.electoral-reform.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2018/07/Civic-Duty-The-Conservative-Case-for-Votes-at-16-and-17.pdf

[5] https://www.electoral-reform.org.uk/latest-news-and-research/media-centre/press-releases/campaigners-warn-of-turn-towards-authoritarian-politics-if-democratic-crisis-not-addressed/

[6] https://www.byc.org.uk/news/2019/cross-party-group-of-mps-call-for-votes-at-16-in-new-report 

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