THE BLOG

Time to Modernise Politics and Reform Flawed Voting System

05/02/2015 17:11 GMT | Updated 07/04/2015 10:59 BST

The next general election will arguably be the most important in this country for decades. Yet it will be characterised by a paralysing absence of political choice, with voters essentially asked what brand of austerity they would prefer: Tory Full Strength or Labour Lite.

Looking enviably to Greece, Syriza's stunning election victory is an inspiration to those of us who know there is an alternative to this fear and gloom. In little over a decade Alexis Tsipras's coalition of left wingers has enjoyed a meteoric rise, while the former centre-left party of government, Pasok, has been all but wiped off the political map.

This is a resounding rejection of austerity by the Greek people whose suffering under brutal cuts programmes has become emblematic of the latest economic crisis. By voting Syriza into office, they are saying they want hope to return to their country for the first time in many years.

While any comparisons with the UK come with a health warning, it is worth considering to what extent our electoral system would limit the kind of Greek-style uprising that many of us want to see here.

It has been clear for some time that 'first past the post' is broken and the arguments in its favour are no longer relevant. The chances of another hung parliament and coalition are very high, so it even "fails on its own terms" by not providing the stability of a one-party government. In May MPs and the party or parties of government will be elected with a lower share of the vote, and more questionable mandates, than ever before.

Designed for another era of two-party politics, FPTP now stultifies elections and degrades our democracy, alienating voters and skewing voting patterns, as YouGov found when it asked people who they would vote for if a party's candidate had a chance of winning in their constituency.

So what we have is bland and complacent two-dimensional politics, where Tories and Labour vie for a mythical centre ground and target policies at handfuls of voters in marginal seats. A fairer system that fostered a greater range of credible alternatives would genuinely shake this consensus and could help diminish the concept of the protest vote, sidelining those who play the system only to stoke fear, hatred and suspicion.

Proportional representation is already well established in our devolved legislatures and in Scotland, for example, it has opened up space for socialists and the Greens, giving them seats in parliament that more closely matched the votes they received at the ballot box.

In 2004, when it was formed, Syriza secured six MPs with just over 3% of the vote, the threshold in Greece to enter its 300-seat parliament. Syriza's rise is obviously not simply a product of proportional representation - nor of 'anti-establishment' sentiment, as some are keen to claim - but early parliamentary success undoubtedly provided a platform on which it has been able to build.

Their victory, a victory for the people of Greece, naturally forces us to look again at politics in the UK and to ask, could that happen here? If the answer is to be yes, our flawed voting system is surely one of the barriers we must overcome.