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A Travesty of Democracy

make my vote count

The outcome of the General Election has highlighted as never before the democratic travesty of the first-past-the-post (FPTP) system of voting in our General Elections. The following analysis says it all:

Party Votes Received % of Vote Seats Won Votes per Seat
Labour 9,660,081 33.90 411 23,561
Conservative 6,755,953 23.60 119 56,772
Reform UK 4,072,947 14.30 5 814,589
Liberal Democrats 3,487,568 12.10 71 49,120
Greens 1,931,880 2.90 4 482,970

The undemocratic outcome of the FPTP system is particularly evident where at the extremes 814,589 votes were needed to elect a Reform candidate whereas only 23,561 votes were needed to elect a Labour candidate and 56,772 to elect a Conservative.

The system has resulted in Labour having two-thirds of the seats with only one-third of the votes.

If we combine the Labour and Conservative results, they polled a total of 16,416,034 votes and were elected in 529 seats at 31,032 votes per seat. If we apply that figure to Reform’s vote share they would have been elected in 131 seats.

A further shocking comparison is with the LibDems. They polled 585,379 votes LESS than Reform but were elected in 66 MORE seats at 49,120 votes per seat. If the LibDem vote share is applied to Reform they would have been elected in 83 seats. Historically, the LibDem vote (and the Liberal Party before them) has traditionally been concentrated in the South West and South East of England where they have been the main competitor to the Conservatives, and vice versa. It is this concentration of their vote that enables the LibDems to win significantly more seats than Reform, whose votes are spread nationally, from a significantly smaller vote share.

The only way that Reform will win seats commensurate with their vote share is through the introduction of Proportional Representation (“PR”) in our General Elections. PR is already used in the elections for the devolved assemblies in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland and in the European Union and most national and regional assemblies in Europe.

An important part of the Conservative-LibDem Agreement that created their Coalition Government in 2010 was that a referendum should be held on whether or not a form of PR should be introduced for our General Elections. This had been a principal objective of principle for the LibDems and the Liberals before them for many years because the FPTP system didn’t fairly represent their national vote share in parliamentary seats.

In 2011 a Referendum was duly held on the introduction of the Alternative Vote System of PR. I campaigned vigorously against this as, at the time, the LibDems were the only third party of national significance and I didn’t like the idea of a small party of the left, as they were, being elevated to the permanent position of kingmaker thus giving them far more power than their vote share could justify.

My opposition to PR was formed through observing the effect of it in other countries. There were two issues of particular concern:

  1. The PR system never leads to an outright winner of a general election (*however, see below) and automatically led to a prolonged period of horse-trading between the various parties on which of them should form a government and who would be predominant. This inevitably meant that the parties would have to compromise on the principles laid down in their election manifestos on which they had received their votes. This often led to their voters being betrayed as policies they had supported and voted for were ditched out of expediency in order to do a deal with other parties in the proverbial “smoke-filled rooms” as a route to power. Very often the desire for power seemed to trump the political principles on which they were elected.

This process usually took weeks to resolve, but often months, and in one instance in Belgium the process took over 12 months to form a government. I didn’t believe that such a hiatus period of ineffective government just marking time with its almost inevitable outcome of a weak compromise was sensible.

  1. PR can put the formation of a government in the hands of a small party of the extreme-left or extreme-right who have emerged as holding the balance of power and thus carrying far more weight and influence than their vote share could justify. This has led to a number of instances where the extreme tail is wagging the rest of the dog and producing a government of the extreme not voted for by a majority of the electorate.

The outcome of the PR Referendum was 13,013,123 votes against (67.90%) and 6,152, 607 votes for (32.10%) and thus failed. The LibDems were not best pleased.

Oh, how times change. The outcome of this week’s General Election has been such a travesty of democracy that I no longer believe that the problems of PR, which remain of grave concern, outweigh the fact that so many votes of so many electors are rendered completely ineffective and thus unrepresented by the FPTP system.

There is, of course, no incentive for Labour and the Conservatives to change a system that works so much in their favour through time over general election cycles. However, the leaders of Reform, the LibDems and the Greens should work together in a campaign to change the system in time for the General Election of 2029. Personally, I feel it will take much longer to achieve, but the process should start now, in earnest, whilst the issue is still up front, raw and alive in the minds of electors.

* When Tony Blair devised his devolution ideas on the back of a fag packet in 1997 they were intended to entrench the Labour fiefdoms in Scotland and Wales that wouldn’t be affected by General Elections putting the Conservatives in power. It’s worked depressingly well in Wales where Labour has been in unbroken power since 1999, but disastrously in Scotland where the SNP have been in charge since 2007. It wasn’t meant to be like that in Scotland where the PR system was, apparently, cunningly designed to deny the nationalists outright power. My contention that PR never produces and outright winner is clearly incorrect as it applies to Scotland’s devolved assembly, but that, I feel, is due to very particular circumstances in Scotland where there is a significant nationalist base combined with a visceral hatred of the Sassenach Tories and the historic ineptitude of the Scottish Labour leadership. However, the outcome of the General Election might mark the beginning of the end of the SNP reign in Scotland, but we’ll have to wait until 2026 to find out.