Thursday, 11 June 2015

Britain needs a new voting system

I have not blogged for ten days as I have been on holiday. But I am now back, and my article in this week’s Cornish Guardian relates to the unequal outcome of the General Election and the need for a more proportional voting system. It as follows:

As a democrat, I have long supported the introduction of a more proportional voting system and I welcome the publication of a new report from the Electoral Reform Society (ERS) about the outcome of the General Election.

The report is scathing and the ERS has described the result as the “most disproportionate” in British electoral history.” It also takes the view that Britain’s “first-past-the-post” voting system is “broken and unfit.”

Across the UK as a whole, the Conservatives won just under 37% of the vote – an increase of 0.8% from 2010 – but this propelled them to an overall majority. Taking non-voters into account, the statistics show that they will be governing for the next five years thanks to the support of 24% of the electorate.

The report shows that, below the headline figures, “regional differences are being exaggerated by the electoral system.” It claims that the country is at a “constitutional crossroads” with the “winner-takes-all system” creating “artificial cleavages which entrench division and run counter to the goals of national and regional unity.”

Much has been made of the result in Scotland, where the Scottish National Party achieved 50% of the vote but won 95% of the seats (56 out of a total of 59), leaving “unionist sentiment north of the border almost completely unrepresented.” Indeed Labour polled 24.3% of the vote and returned just one Scottish MP.

Yet in England, the Conservatives won almost 60% of the seats but only needed 41% of the votes, while in Wales Labour managed 62.5% of the seats on 36.9% of the vote

And here in Cornwall, the Tories – on 43% of the popular vote – won all six Cornish seats, while there is now only one non-Conservative MP to the west of Bristol, leaving great swathes of opinion unrepresented.

Analysis by the ERS also shows that, averaged out, a Conservative MP was elected for every 34,000 votes cast, while for each Labour MP the figure was 40,000. By comparison, the Liberal Democrats polled 299,000 votes for each MP elected, while UKIP and the Greens polled 3.86 million and 1.16 million votes respectively but only secured the election of a single MP.

I strongly believe that the ERS report should lead to a major debate about the state of democracy within the UK, but question whether the two largest establishment parties will be keen for that to happen.

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