A broken electoral system

Phil Parry argues that the electoral system is unfair, but says reform isn’t likely.

One overriding factor has become abundantly clear with Thursday’s election result:  the electoral system is bankrupt.

Smaller parties secured a huge number of votes but hardly any seats.

The first-past-the-post system disadvantages those parties, because their vote is spread across the United Kingdom, and it is far better to have strong support in individual constituencies, preferably marginal ones.

But I can almost guarantee the situation will not change any time soon.

This table shows how the seats would have panned out under a Proportional Representation system.







Plaid Cymru earned 181,704 votes with a 0.6 per cent share and retained three seats. They did not do too badly, but not brilliantly either.

The star of a fairly tedious campaign was the SNP’s Nicola Sturgeon, not Plaid’s Leanne Wood.

The Liberal Democrats meanwhile, have long been advocates of electoral reform.

To their credit they formed a coalition with the Tories with, as part of the reason, a belief that the British people must become used to coalition government, as happens on much of the continent.

In the deal, they insisted on a referendum on electoral reform which was of course lost, and will be used as a stick to beat those pushing for change.

We will hear a lot of:  ‘The British people were asked whether they wanted to change the system and they said they didn’t’ etc.

The Liberal Democrats political opponents will also seize on the devastation of their party at the polls, as proof that voters do not approve of groups which go into coalition.

The Welsh people have always had a strong traditional link with radical Liberalism.

But the Lib Dems now have more non-elected Welsh members in parliament than they do elected.

One of the eight elected MPs they do have is Mark Williams, who represents Ceredigion.

They have moved back 50 odd years to a time when they were revitalised under a new and charismatic leader called Jeremy Thorpe in 1967.

When Mr Thorpe was first adopted to contest North Devon in 1952, the Liberals had only six seats – and five of those were effectively won through local arrangements with the Conservatives.

The party held virtually no council seats.

Nick Clegg, their erstwhile head who led them back to that time with such a catastrophic result on Thursday night, was right to say this was cruel.

One of the strong arguments against Proportional Representation has always been that it will break the historic link between MPs and their constituencies. But how accurate is this? How many voters have actually been to an MPs surgery or even know who their representative is?

I once did ‘vox pops’ in Pontypridd town centre for Wales Today, when I asked people at random a short question, to guage their reaction to the announcement that Kim Howells was to stand down as MP.

The question was:  “What do you think about Kim Howells standing down?”

The  response, more than once, was:  “Who’s he then?”

But the system will not change.

The Tories commitment to electoral reform is non-existent, and this is only reinforced by their election victory. Their only step down the road of electoral reform will be to cut the number of traditional Labour seats by 20.

Labour for their part secured the second highest number of seats under the first-past-the-post system and it is not in their interest to unpick the situation.

They may also go back to believing ‘one more heave’ will kick out the Tories, as they did in the 80s.

This is especially true if the winner of the Labour leadership election is Andy Burnham and not Chuka Umunna.

As someone who predicted a slim, but workable Tory majority in February on the Three Muckrakers podcast – I know what I’m on about!

Phil Parry is Editor of the investigative website Wales Eye.

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