Nearly 14 million voters are in seats that have not changed party hands since the Second World War, according to new research by the Electoral Reform Society.
Taking into account equivalent predecessor seats, some seats have not changed party hands since the early years of Queen Victoria’s reign – yes, in the first half of the 1800s.
Some seats have not changed party hands since the 19th century, with Conservative Hugo Swire’s equivalent seat won from the Whigs in 1835. The Conservatives won now-Independent Sir Oliver Letwin’s seat in 1857, while Theresa May and Chris Grayling’s seats have been held by the Tories since 1874.
Some of the seats had different names then, but the problem remains the same: in some areas, your family could have lived in an area for over 150 years…and you’d still be living under the same single party.
"Safe" seats leave voters demoralised and ignored time and again.
Even the average seat has not changed hands for 42 years, while 11 Labour and 54 Conservative seats haven’t changed party hands in over a century.
And it seems the problem may actually be getting worse. Just 70 seats – 11% of the total – changed party hue at the last election, a figure which has been declining in recent years. December’s election could see just 58 seats change hands, according to YouGov’s recent projection.
What we’ve found:
- 98 Labour seats haven’t changed hands since WWII (37% of their 2017 total).
- 94 Conservative seats haven’t changed hands since WWII (30% of their 2017 total)
- 65 seats haven’t changed hands since 1918 or earlier (10% of seats) – affecting 4.8m potential voters this election
- 192 seats haven’t changed hands since 1945 or earlier (30% of seats): affecting 13.7m potential voters this election
What’s behind the problem? Under Westminster’s First Past the Post, winner-takes-all voting system, only one person can win in each seat. That’s a contrast to many other democracies, where your have a number of local MPs to choose from.
What’s worse, if your one ‘X’ doesn’t get over the line, your vote is effectively ignored: thrown on the electoral scrapheap. Under proportional voting systems like STV, if your first choice doesn’t count, your second choice is used instead. No need for endless talk about tactical voting or electoral pacts, no “vote splitting” – just a radical idea called democratic choice.
No party should have a monopoly on local representation.
Instead, huge parts of this country are effectively competition-free zones, with “safe” seats leaving voters demoralised and ignored time and again.
Elections under Westminster’s broken system rely on a handful of “battleground” seats, while many areas barely have a contest at all.
It’s clear that we need a change. Voters in Scotland are familiar with voting under a fair, proportional voting system. Wales will soon allow people to vote with a fairer system for local councils.
People need to know their vote will count, whichever party they give it to, and wherever they are in the country. Unfortunately, under First Past the Post, some votes count much more than others.
No party should have a monopoly on local representation. The next government must commit to introducing a more diverse, democratic system, away from “shoe-in seats” of Westminster’s rotten system, and towards ensuring every vote counts.
It’s no wonder trust in politics is at rock bottom. Being trapped with the same representation for decades is not the hallmark of a responsive and functioning democracy.
This election should be the last ever conducted under the rotten First Past the Post system, that has shut so many voices out.
With untold millions of votes set to go to waste in this coming election, it’s about time the whole UK backed the reforms we’ve seen in Wales and Scotland. Sticking with the same system means yet more distrust, anger and alienation. Instead, we can build a real democracy.
The ERS have launched a tool to find out when your seat last changed hands. Thursday also marks #DemocracyDay when democracy campaigners will be asking all the parties to promote their ideas for political reform.
Dr Jess Garland is Director of Policy and Research for the Electoral Reform Society.