When millions of voters are systematically ignored, it’s time for an overhaul at Westminster

Darren Hughes, Chief Executive

Posted on the 16th December 2019

One thing was clear before a single result came in on Thursday night. The voting system is not just bust – it’s bankrupt.

A huge amount of time was given this election to talk about how to game the system – whether that’s parties trying to deal with the straight-jacket of the voting system through electoral pacts,  or the 30% of voters having to ‘hold their nose’ and vote tactically (as shown by BMG research).

It is no surprise that people feel let down by the democratic contest on offer: when 80% of people (BMG Research) feel that they have no or not very much influence over decision-making in the country, you can’t blame them.

Even before the election, just 16 percent of the public believed politics is working well in the UK – and only two percent of people felt they have a significant influence over decision-making.

That is a damning indictment of a political machine that is desperately unresponsive and out of touch.

This election was called because Westminster system had left the country in a deadlock: a political mentality that treats cooperation and dialogue as taboo, despite voters wanting to ‘shop around’ more than ever.

And it is a system that has warped electoral results for too long, while heightening divisions along a binary Leave/Remain axis. The tools of compromise and working together have been left to rust away.

Now the results are in, we’ve lifted the lid on the rotten state of winner-takes-all results.

Parties needed wildly different levels of support to secure each MP.

The ERS analysed the number of votes each party received per MP elected:

It took:

  • 865,697 to elect the lone Green MP
  • 642,303 votes for zero Brexit Party MPs
  • 336,038 per each Liberal Democrat
  • 50,835 per each Labour MP
  • 38,316 per each Plaid Cymru MP
  • 38,264 per each Conservative MP
  • 25,882 per each SNP MP

That’s because under First Past the Post, all votes not cast for the one winner in each seat go to waste. Across the country, that means millions of votes are ignored.

Because of that, 45% of voters went totally unrepresented (they didn’t vote for the one winner in their area). That’s 14.5m people feeling voiceless. And it means the new government was able to win a large majority of seats on a minority of the vote.

We also saw incredibly warped results – a 1% increase in the Conservatives’ vote share led to a landslide victory. Parties like the Greens and Brexit Party won huge numbers of votes and almost no representation. The Lib Dems saw a surge in votes and their number of seats fall. Something is very clearly wrong.

Voters in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are used to using more democratic voting systems – and having a more cooperative politics as a result.

It’s clear Westminster can’t carry on in this way. Politicians return to the House of Commons on Monday with voters across the spectrum hoping for real political reform. From dark ads and dodgy donations, to people feeling forced to vote tactically, this election did not reflect well on our democracy.

Here’s the results under First Past the Post compared to a form of proportional representation

There are big questions for both parties now. The Conservatives must recognise they were helped by the Brexit Party standing down in existing Conservative seats, while Labour must recognise that tactical voting under Westminster’s voting system did not save them.

We have to build a bigger movement than ever for real reform. Join the campaign for proportional representation today, and sign the ERS’ petition.

Together, let’s make this the last ‘hold your nose’ – and make seats match votes.

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