One-party politics is over: Why pressure is building for proportional representation

Tara Azar, former Student Placement

Posted on the 19th February 2021

Debate is growing about the need for a fair, democratic voting system.

This week an editorial in the Guardian noted how the pandemic shows how giving governments 100% of the power – with only minority support is a pretty terrible way of running the country.

The paper points out:

“The electoral system…awards sweeping power to a party that can turn a plurality of votes into an overall parliamentary majority. That prize also accounts for the resilience of the two-party duopoly in England. First past the post raises insuperable barriers for smaller parties. When every vote counts more equally, the British public are not so easily corralled into the long-established red and blue reservations.”

As the ERS noted after the 2019 election:

“Voters increasingly want more than just two parties to choose from, as successive elections have shown. Yet nearly 900,000 votes for the Green Party across the UK in 2019 equated to exactly…one Green MP. Unlike the Conservatives, the Green vote was spread out, meaning that the hundreds of thousands of votes across the country that didn’t secure the one winner in each seat could be ignored. The Brexit Party too secured hundreds of thousands of votes and zero representation.

In contrast, it took just 25,000 or so votes to elect an SNP MP. As SNP votes are concentrated in a smaller area of the UK, First Past the Post gave them a boost. (Thankfully, the SNP back moving to a fair, proportional electoral system where seats match votes).”

The First Past the Post electoral system means people feel they have to ‘hold their nose’ and opt for a party that they don’t really support. Nearly one in three people did this in the 2019 election – a shocking indictment of Westminster’s system.

But support for proportional representation is growing. In the Labour party, Labour MPs such as Alex Sobel have joined with other parties and campaigners like the ERS to launch the All Party Parliamentary Group for Electoral Reform, only last week. Meanwhile, one in four local Labour party groups have now endorsed proportional representation, a fantastic milestone following work by Labour for a New Democracy (backed by the ERS, among many others).

The Guardian editorial makes another important point. We need to see ‘more collaboration’ and ‘more consensus’ in UK politics. Rather than simply shouting across the aisle or saying those with a similar viewpoint to you will ‘split the vote’, we need a system that encourages working together as we come out of the pandemic.

There’s real discontent growing with a political system that creates two hyper-dominant parties, above political diversity. Too many people feel unheard and neglected from a system that allocates power unevenly – with those in ‘safe’ seats left on the side-lines.

There’s hope for change, with more people of all parties and none realising that Westminster needs a real overhaul in favour of citizens, rather than the big party machines.

Tara Azar is a placement student with the Electoral Reform Society from the University of Nottingham.

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