Every vote counts?

The first-past-the-post voting system has had its day, argues Mat Mathias






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Winner-takes-all. It’s an idea that’s fun for rugby and football matches. Not so much when it comes to running a democracy.

We saw that last month, when we learnt that under Westminster’s winner-takes-all voting system, a million votes didn’t count in terms of electing an MP in Wales.

And a quarter of us took time to go to the polling station, take selfies, tweet or just stop to chat – and then hold our noses as we voted against a party we opposed, rather than for one that represented our views, beliefs and aspirations.

These figures come from a report ERS published this week on the 2017 general election – ‘Volatile Voting – Random Results’.

It’s a huge spur to remind people that how we elect our MPs isn’t working. In the last 20 months we have had four elections and a referendum – which sounds like a hideous Richard Curtis film – and if we are expecting more people to get out and vote, we need their votes to count.

First Past the Post (FPTP) is meant to give the Mother of Parliaments a majority government which is ‘strong and stable’.

But it hasn’t done that – in 2010 it brought a Conservative/Liberal coalition, while in 2015 it delivered a slim majority on 38% of the vote. Now in 2017, it forced the Conservatives into a case-by-case deal with the DUP, even though their vote share actually went up.

So, to clarify, that’s:

2015: 38% of the vote – majority government (time to sort out anti-EU backbenchers).

2017: 42% of the vote – ‘weak and wobbly’ government, confidence-and-supply deal, Big Ben stopping.

The FPTP vote-wasting machine that is meant to work for the two main parties doesn’t even work for them anymore.

This was the most polarising election in years, with over 80% of the electorate voting  Labour or Conservative – and still nobody formed a majority Government. The Labour surge was real a couple of months ago, but in some constituencies, the opposition majority was so big that those votes didn’t turn into seats, and that increase was wasted.

Closer to home the Conservatives had their best vote share in Wales for decades, receiving every vote in three. Yet they lost three seats. A fifth of the seats for a third of the votes just doesn’t seem proportionate – but then this is typical of a broken voting system.

The question is then: do we carry on ignoring thousands upon thousands of votes, just so one day one of the main parties finally get an artificial majority for four or five years?

Politics is in such a state of flux – and we know there are other ways of doing things. Surely now is the time to consider them?

Through YouGov, we modelled the results under three other voting systems, asking 13,000 voters how they’d vote using the Alternative Vote, the Additional Member System we use for Assembly elections, or Northern Ireland and Scotland’s Single Transferable Vote system.

 

Party STV Seats
Labour 22
Conservatives 14
Plaid Cymru 3
Liberal Democrats 1
Greens 0

 

Under proportional models, we would get results that people really voted for it – and they would be able to expect seat shares reflecting vote shares. There’s better representation for smaller parties and, crucially, hundreds and thousands fewer lost votes or ‘hold-your-nose’ tactical ballots.

We know that FPTP has had its day – which is why it’s fantastic the Welsh government are exploring options for local PR.

It’s time for our democracy to let people not only feel but know that their vote will always count –and that their voice will resound in every institution.

Read the ERS’ report on the 2017 General Election here

 

All articles published on Click on Wales are subject to IWA’s disclaimer.

 

Mat Mathias is Campaigns and Projects Officer at ERS Cymru.