Our Archaic Voting System Is Why We Feel Underrepresented

The United Kingdom is the only democracy in Europe to use First Past the Post (FPTP) to elect its MPs
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It came as no surprise this week that the 2018 Edelman Trust Barometer revealed nearly three in five people (57%) in the UK feel their views are not being represented in British politics.

It is the inevitable consequence of an archaic voting system which has been an insult to democracy for far too long.

Our analysis of the 2017 General Election results revealed that 44.1% of votes went on non-elected candidates – that’s over 14 million voters whose choice was not reflected in the outcome.

Then there are those people whose choice did win, but who felt compelled to vote tactically because of the winner-takes-all nature of the First Past The Post system.

Research commissioned by the Electoral Reform Society ahead of the General Election revealed one in five people (20%) said they planned to vote tactically.

This situation – where a high proportion of people at a local level are being represented by an MP they either did not vote for, or who they felt compelled to vote for – is far from a new phenomenon.

The United Kingdom has been using First Past The Post to elect the House of Commons for more than a century.

There are millions of unheard voices up and down the country. For example, the Hemsworth seat has been red on the map, without fail, since the constituency was created in 1918. But at last year’s election there were 20,204 people who voted for someone other than Labour.

At the other end of the two-party spectrum, Horsham has been held by the Conservatives continually since 1888 (including periods when it was replaced by Horsham and Worthing, and Horsham and Crawley.) In 2017, 25,081 people voted for a losing candidate.

These local results add up to a national picture where parties are either underrepresented or overrepresented in Parliament.

In the last election, the Liberal Democrats were big losers, attracting 7.4% of the total vote but being rewarded with just four of 650 (1.8%) seats.

Meanwhile the Conservatives, the SNP and the DUP all have more MPs than their vote share warrants.

A system of Proportional Representation to replace First Past The Post is required to redress this imbalance and ensure all voices are being heard.

As part of our analysis of the 2017 result, the Electoral Reform Society projected the final makeup of the House of Commons had the Single Transferable Vote (STV) system been in place.

STV, in which voters rank candidates and there are multi-member constituencies, retains MPs’ local link while better reflecting vote share and is the Electoral Reform Society’s preferred system. It is currently used for most elections in Northern Ireland, and Scottish local elections.

Had it been in place, our projection indicates the Conservatives would have secured 282 (43.4%) seats instead of 318 (48.9%). The party’s vote share was 42.4%.

The SNP would have won 18 seats (2.8%) instead of 35 (5.4%) when their vote share was (3%).

And the Liberal Democrats would have returned 29 MPs (4.5%) rather than 12 (1.8%) when its share of the vote was (7.4%).

The projection showed that Labour would win 297 seats (45.7%) – which is greater than their actual vote share (40.0%) – reflecting a high number of second and third preferences from those whose first choice were the Green Party or the SNP, but where those candidates failed to attract enough votes.

However, it should not be assumed that Labour would always benefit from STV more than the Conservatives. In our 2015 projection the Conservatives and UKIP, together, would have won a majority.

A legislature which better reflects the parties which its citizens voted for will better represent their views.

And STV’s multi-member constituencies means more people will have a local MP they voted for.

The United Kingdom is the only democracy in Europe to use First Past the Post (FPTP) to elect its MPs. It is high time the system was replaced.


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