Monday 2 July marked the beginning of the Government’s ‘National Democracy Week’, a week long celebration of British democracy which coincided with the 90th anniversary of equal voting rights for women. However, not everyone is in the mood for celebrations, as revealed by an ICM poll for Make Votes Matter which shows that just 32% of people think British democracy is worth celebrating.
Describing “National Democracy Week”, the Government claimed they want to “ensure that every member of society has an equal chance to participate in our democracy and to have their say.” However, Britain’s archaic First Past the Post (FPTP) voting system ensures that elections are decided by the tiny minority of swing voters in a handful of marginal constituencies, producing parliaments that do not reflect how people have voted. It is no wonder that some are questioning the cause for celebration when people are increasingly disillusioned with Britain’s electoral system.
Make Votes Matter, the cross-party movement which commissioned the poll, is calling for the introduction of Proportional Representation (PR) to replace the failing FPTP system. Under PR, every vote would count equally, eliminating safe and marginal seats. How can it make sense that at the last general election one party needed 28,000 votes to win an MP whilst another required over half a million? PR would mean seats in Parliament would match how people voted, giving us real cause to celebrate our democracy.
This proposal is overwhelmingly backed by the public, with two thirds of those polled agreeing that seats should match votes, and over half explicitly calling for FPTP to be replaced by PR. This reflects the growing frustration with a democracy that fails to represent people’s views adequately. The same poll also revealed that less than a third of people felt their vote had made a difference in general elections in which they had voted. Just 37% felt that their MP would listen and represent their views on a matter of personal importance.
As public demand for reform grows, efforts by campaigners to push for PR intensify. On Saturday, Make Votes Matter held a national day of action: Demand Democracy Day. Local activists organised around 60 stalls across the country, from Truro to Aberdeen. This concerted grassroots push for a better voting system was the biggest mobilisation for Proportional Representation in living memory.
As grassroots support for PR surges, politicians are waking up. Make Votes Matter is backed by political parties including the Liberal Democrats, Green Party, SNP, Plaid Cymru, Women’s Equality Party, UKIP, and a growing number of Labour MPs. Cross-party talks have helped these groups begin to coordinate their campaigns and raised hopes of PR after the next election.
Within Labour, the only British opposition party in Parliament that does not formally back PR, an increasing number of MPs and activists are calling for a policy change. Dozens of Constituency Labour Parties and branches have passed motions for PR, piling pressure on the party’s National Policy Forum and leadership to back a change. And with 76% of Labour voters wanting the party to back PR, this is just the tip of the iceberg.
Millions of people feel disenfranchised and disillusioned with democracy, and National Democracy Week is barely papering over the cracks. The UK is one of just three developed democracies to still use FPTP. We need a voting system fit for the 21st century, so that by the time we reach the 100th anniversary of women winning equal voting rights, in ten years time, we will be able to celebrate a genuine democracy in which Parliament represents the people.
Now is the time to join Make Votes Matter and demand a proportional voting system, so that all votes count and all voices are heard.