THE BLOG

Is it Time for Proportional Representation?

02/09/2015 09:36 BST | Updated 31/08/2016 10:59 BST

Had proportional representation been the system used in this year's General Election, the political landscape in Westminster would look very different.

The first-past-the-post system left Ukip with only one seat in the Commons, even after gaining nearly 4 million votes nationally. Similarly, the Greens won only one seat with more than one million votes and the Liberal Democrats were also victims of first-past-the-post. Supporters of these parties in particular have called for electoral reform, with the Electoral Reform Society only growing in strength as more people become less represented by the current system.

Had proportional representation been installed before May, Ukip would have claimed 83 seats in the Commons, giving them considerable influence as the third largest party. But, first-past-the-post allows changes to constituency boundaries. Successive governments have changed boundaries to manipulate constituency results, particularly in marginal seats. Naturally, the process of boundary changes is impossible to find a neutral solution to, as all governing parties have been involved at some point.

With modern society fracturing the political landscape into many minor parties, the current system does not adequately represent the popularity of Ukip, the Greens or even the Liberal Democrats.

First-past-the-post loyalists would argue that the perceived unfairness of the current system is worth it for a stable government. Proportional representation does give some chance of instability, with the inevitability of coalition governments and the fairly common practise of minor parties exchanging their support for government subsidies for their party or cause. But, after first-past-the-post delivered a coalition government in 2010, it has become difficult for this argument against proportional representation to be made.

Over 7.3 million voters, who voted Ukip, Lib Dem or Green, feel their vote was either wasted or largely undervalued. According to a survey in The Independent, 60% of voters are now in favour of proportional representation following this year's General Election. Some voters of the major parties, who benefit the most from first-past-the-post, are also beginning to favour the introduction of proportional representation.

Labour, a bastion of the first-past-the-post system, could opt for the establishment of a proportional system if their own election results continue on the downwards spiral they have been on since 2010. But, for Ukip, the Greens and the Liberal Democrats, the situation is much more serious. They need it to thrive, have influence and, most importantly, survive on the political scene.

For the Labour Party, proportional representation may provide an electoral advantage in the future. Labour would find themselves in a much better place than the Conservatives to form a coalition government. After 2010, the Liberal Democrats would surely never go back after the 2015 election backlash and Ukip seem the only party that would be willing to work with the Tories in government. Labour would also have benefited from a proportional system in Scotland, where the SNP would have won only 25 seats, rather than the 50 they took.

Although the installation of proportional representation looks highly unlikely in the UK, if minor parties manage to continue their rise into future elections, some form of electoral reform could take place with overwhelming public support.