This election, the political system is more distrusted by voters than it has been for years. It’s not hard to see why.
The sense that people do not feel ‘heard’ is growing: an ERS poll conducted by BMG earlier this year showed that two thirds of people (67%) feel they have very few or no opportunities to inform and influence the decisions made by MPs at Westminster – and only four percent feel they have a lot of opportunities. Research by the Hansard Society found that nearly two-thirds of people feel our system of governing needs ‘quite a lot’ or ‘a great deal of improvement’.
The Brexit impasse – and the fact that we’re facing our third general election in four years – are clear symptoms of the problem. When ‘working together’ is treated as betrayal, and Parliament fails to reflect how people want to be represented, it’s no surprise that we are at a standstill. 68% of votes at the 2017 election didn’t count towards the local result, leaving people feeling voiceless.
With so many cut out of the picture, the centralised ‘Westminster model’ of government also gives too much power to one political group – and takes too much away from local communities and citizens.
But here’s the thing: it’s not inevitable. The distrust and deadlock can be countered. There are popular, vital ideas for change which we know work.
To bring politics into the 21st century, Westminster needs an ambitious, democratic overhaul.
What we’re calling for
Firstly, the past three general elections have shown that First Past the Post voting is finished. We need a fair proportional system, so we can all be heard – not just a few voters in swing seats. Instead of having to ‘game the system’ and vote tactically, people should have real choice and a guaranteed voice, wherever they are. That includes shifting to proportional representation for local elections in England and Wales too (Scotland and Northern Ireland already use a fair method, STV).
Secondly, through replacing the unelected House of Lords with a PR-elected second chamber representing nations and localities of the UK, we can spread power outside of London. Alongside citizen-led devolution, this would be transformational.
Thirdly, we need to tighten the ‘nuts and bolts’ of our democracy. That means closing the loopholes in online campaigning, with proper transparency for unregulated political ads, an end to the risks of foreign funding, and an update of electoral registration – so that our right to vote is guaranteed (9.4m people are estimated to be missing from the electoral roll). And it means parties opening up about their diversity gaps, by reporting on how representative their candidates are.
We also have to recognise that politics isn’t just what happens every five years with an X in a box. Democracy can and must be deeper than that. We want to see a constitutional convention involving citizens to work through the detail of democratic reform.
Let’s expand the franchise to 16 and 17 year olds – as in Scotland and soon Wales, with active citizens for our future. Rather than raising the drawbridge to millions through the undemocratic mandatory voter ID proposals, we should be expanding participation. And we should see an expansion in citizens’ assemblies – where we can work to find common ground on complex, contested issues.
All of this can help us move towards a fairer political system that empowers all of us – and encourages a culture of cooperation, not outrage.
We don’t have to accept the broken system as it is. We can build a better democracy. It’s time to be heard.
Sign our petiton for a fairly elected House of Commons