Sunday, 24 September 2017

"Make Votes Matter" Cornwall

In 2015, sixteen-year-old Owen Winter from North Cornwall launched an online petition in support of proportional representation (PR) for future Westminster elections. The last time I looked, the petition had amassed 288,379 signatures.

A formidable campaigner, Owen is one of the co-founders of the cross-party campaign organisation “Make Votes Matter,” which launched a second petition on the official website in 2016. In a period of six months, 103,495 individuals signed this second petition and it will be debated by MPs on 30th October.

I am a supporter of the “Make Votes Matter” initiative as I fully back the introduction of a more proportional voting system, which would ensure that the outcome of a General Election would better reflect the actual votes cast.

At the 2017 General Election in Cornwall, the Conservative Party secured 48% of the votes but secured 100% of the seats. There are many areas in England where the Conservatives won all – or nearly all – of the seats, while Labour was equally dominant in places such as South Wales, inner London and some metropolitan areas in the north.

This cannot be right in a modern democracy.

It means that the vast majority of parliamentary constituencies are always unlikely to change hands and the larger political parties pour disproportionate resources into a small number of marginal seats.

To illustrate this, I happen to have some figures from an old General Election campaign. In one competitive Cornish seat, in the four months leading up to polling day, the Lib Dems spent £33,852 and the Conservatives £40,968 (official spending returns). This was on top of the tens of thousands of pounds spent by both parties in the preceding two years.

By comparison, in the perceived “safe” Labour-held seat of Islwyn in South Wales, the Tories spent £923 while the Lib Dems only coughed up £589.

I do not think that this disparity in spending and associated campaign activity is healthy for a democracy.

Writing on the website, Owen Winter recently explained that he started his original petition because he wanted people to be able to vote for whichever party they believed in. He didn’t want individuals to be pressured into tactical voting because they were scared of “wasting” their vote or “letting the other side in.”

As someone who has contested parliamentary elections I know from experience how great pressure is brought to bear to promote tactically voting. I feel that this distorts debate, undermines the pluralistic nature of British politics, and often derails serious consideration of the issues that really matter to communities throughout the UK.

I am pleased that I was able to attend a very positive first meeting of a Cornwall “Make Votes Matter” group last week, which was addressed by Owen. A second meeting has already been arranged for Wednesday 18th October at the Railway Tavern in Truro (7.30pm). All are welcome to attend and further information is available from

[This will be my article in this coming week's Cornish Guardian].

No comments: