One piece of news got buried last week. While Labour held on to Newport West in Thursday’s by-election, the full figures reveal an interesting picture.
Back in 2017 Labour and the Conservatives took nearly 92% of the 43,000 ballots cast in Newport West. The same count in Thursday by-election puts that figure at just over 70%. Nearly one in three people opted for parties other than the ‘Big Two’.
Of course, this trend is not just unique to South Wales. On the same day of the results, a report from You Gov found that, with a general election now a distinct possibility, support for the Conservatives and Labour appears to be ebbing away.
The parties remain neck and neck: with just one point putting the Conservatives ahead of Labour in the latest poll. But their combined voting share is down to 63% - nearly 20 points lower than they were polling back in December.
While smaller parties get squeezed in General Elections here, either way an election will do little to end this political impasse: neither party is likely to command a majority of seats. Westminster’s voting system is simply unable to keep up with how people want to be represented.
The two-party system is falling apart. Why? Because the structures that underpin it remain stuck in the past.
At its core, the Brexit chaos is the fallout of an impossible situation: where two parties try to represent the interests of all people, and can’t. Brexit has opened up new divides in the political spectrum that the two main parties are struggling to bridge.
The result is an electorate that is increasingly frustrated and voiceless – as new Hansard Society analysis reveals. Almost two-thirds of people of think our political system needs dramatic change, and 75% of people say the main political parties are so divided within themselves that they cannot serve the best interests of the country.
First Past the Post is designed to create strong, majority governments – but the past three General Elections have shown that is no longer the case.
Each of them have produced slim or non-existent majorities, alongside the scourge of tactical voting and votes not counting towards the result. 2015 saw the most disproportionate result in our parliament’s history. But while support for the larger parties is falling, the smaller parties are unable to break through into parliament and their votes wasted. The result? Random results, as people’s preferences are warped through the meat-grinder of Westminster’s first-past-the-post system.
The current set-up is no longer fit for purpose. Our divisive voting system creates a one-person-takes-all culture which falls apart when, as we’re increasingly seeing today, there is no clear winner.
It’s a system that prevents people from backing the candidates they want to support and instead often find themselves forced to back the least worst option in the voting booth.
We need to replace Westminster’s out-dated first-past-the-post system to ensure seats match votes. A modern, proportional voting system would create a more balanced Parliament representatives of the diverse views of voters.
It would finally give us a politics that could begin to bridge the divides in politics and plot a positive way forward. Parliament is falling apart – in more ways than one. Re-running our elections under the same broken system isn’t going to change that.
Darren Hughes is Chief Executive of the Electoral Reform Society.