The only bias in the electoral system should be towards the voters

Author:
Darren Hughes, Chief Executive

Posted on the 8th July 2024

In the days since the election, I have been touring TV and radio studios making the case for proportional representation and talking about how First Past the Post is failing millions of voters. The fact we have just witnessed the most disproportional general election on record has thrown a spotlight onto our electoral system like never before.

One thing I have noticed about the debate surrounding electoral reform is that it often descends into a squabble over who’s up and who’s down. The arguments get reduced to purely which parties would benefit from which voting systems.

But that’s the wrong way of looking at it, the only people that the electoral system should be biased towards are the voting public. They are the most important part of any election, and the voting system needs to ensure their voice is heard as clearly as possible by ensuring parliament accurately represents how they voted.

ERS Chief Executive Darren Hughes on BBC Breakfast, Sunday 7th July

The most important people in any election are the voters

The distorting First Past the Post voting system is clearly not doing that. That was never more evident than last week, when we saw the Westminster voting system produce a Parliament unprecedentedly disproportional from how the public voted.

For instance, we saw Labour win 63% of the seats in Parliament, 412 out of 650, on just 34% of the vote. Meanwhile, Reform and the Green Party combined won just over 20% of the vote share but received just over 1% of the seats, winning just 9 between them. To most people, that just won’t make any sense. Frankly, the voting system shouldn’t be this complicated: people should be able to vote for parties they support, and then Parliament should reflect how many votes those parties won.

ERS Chief Executive Darren Hughes on BBC Today Programme, Saturday 6th July

You shouldn’t choose an electoral system because you like the results 

We campaign for proportional representation at every election, as we think it’s just as unfair for Labour to get an unfair advantage as it is for the Conservatives. The thing with Westminster’s First Past the Post system is that it doesn’t care about the political background of the parties that it gives an advantage too, and the ones it punishes.

Choosing an electoral system because it would help your party at one point in time, is no guarantee that it will in the future. But an electoral system that gives a proportional outcome at this election, will give a proportional outcome at the next.

One of the reasons the voting system produced such a disproportional result last week is that the public are already voting as if we have a proportional voting system and this old system, which is designed for two parties, is buckling under the pressure.

The public are voting as if we already have PR

This was the first election ever, for example, where four parties received over 10% of the vote and five parties received over 5%. Meanwhile, this election saw the combined Labour and Conservative vote share slump to its lowest level on 57.4%. The second lowest combined vote share for the two parties was in 2010 when they received 65.1%.

We have known that the voting system has been failing for a long time. The last three general elections have seen a winning majority gained on just 36.9% of the vote in 2015, a minority government on 42.4% of the vote in 2017 and then an 80-seat majority achieved on a vote share increase of just 1.3% in 2019.

But now it feels as if the outdated First Past the Post voting system is creaking and failing voters on a massive scale. This has only strengthened the argument the ERS has long made: that it’s time to scrap this broken Westminster system and move to a fairer proportional voting system that accurately reflect how the whole country voted.

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