- 29 Oct 19
With a fresh General Election looming in the UK, new figures have been released by the ERS, which confirm that an astonishing 68% of the votes cast in the 2017 UK general election had no bearing whatsoever on the result. And British politicians talk about a ‘democratic deficit’ in Europe. They’re having a laugh...
The Electoral Reform Society in the UK is calling for a proportional voting system to be introduced for Westminster elections, the same as that which is used in Ireland. The Single Transferable Vote system is used in elections in Ireland, as well as in Scottish local elections.
ERS analysis of the 2017 general election in the UK found that millions of people’s votes were in effect thrown on the electoral scrapheap. A remarkable 68% of all votes had no impact whatsoever on the result – representing 22 million votes going to waste.
Against that backdrop, the ERS says that results in the upcoming general election – pushed through parliament by Boris Johnson (pictured) today and scheduled for December 12th – are likely to be as ‘clear as mud’ when it comes to translating voters’ preferences, with what it describes as "vote splitting, wasted votes and unfair results on an industrial scale” in the offing for UK citizens.
“There has been talk in the past about a perceived ‘democratic deficit' in Europe,” one UK political insider told Hot Press. “Whatever the validity of the claim, that notion contributed at least in part to the push for Brexit. But, of course, what nobody in the main parties ever thinks about discussing is the appalling democratic deficit which is built into our system in Great Britain, the effect of which is that parliament in no way reflects the diversity or the complexity of the views of the electorate. It is a national embarrassment that is completely ignored because it suits the two dominant political parties. It really is disgraceful."
According to the ERS, any December election is likely to see an increase in what is called ’tactical voting’, with almost one in four (24%) of voters now planning to opt for a candidate other than their real first choice. According to BMG, who carried out polling for the ERS, this is likely to increase the extent of 'random results' under Westminster’s winner-takes-all voting system.
Tactical voting has always been a part of the UK electoral system, which any honest assessment will confirm is brutally unrepresentative. When the question about tactical voting was asked before the 2017 general election, 20% of people said they’d opt for someone who was not their first choice. However, the increase in that number will inevitably add to the skewed nature of the results, and deepen the fundamental democratic deficit which the current system has institutionalised.
While this deficit has long been recognised, the Conservative Party and the Labour Party both benefit disproportionately from the first past the post system – and as a result they have stymied all efforts to effect change.
Bizarrely, there is further compelling evidence which underlines the broken nature of the system. The final results of any Westminster election tends to rest on a handful of marginal constituencies, or seats, changing hands.
“Eleven seats were won by less than 100 votes in 2017,” the ERS explained. "North East Fife was held by the SNP by just two votes. Such are the vagaries of the system that the Conservatives could have won an absolute majority on the basis of just 533 extra votes in the nine most marginal constituencies.
"A working majority could have been achieved on just 75 additional votes in the right places. (This pinpoints) two very different outcomes based on less than 0.0017 percent of voters choosing differently.”
HOLD YOUR NOSE
Darren Hughes, Chief Executive of the Electoral Reform Society, has given his response to the news that a general election is on the way.
“Few really believe a third General Election in the space of four years will ‘fix’ the current impasse,” he said. “The only agreement seems to be that there is yet more volatility coming our way, with parties hoping to gain from the chaos.
“It’s amusing to remember that Westminster’s voting system is supposed to deliver ‘strong and stable’ government. Clearly it has totally failed to do what it says on the tin, and no wonder – people are rightly shopping around, but this two-party system is totally unable to cope.
“This election is likely to see ‘tactical’ voting on a scale never seen before, alongside widespread ‘vote splitting’ and candidates getting in on fractions of the vote.
“First Past the Post voting is now an engine of volatility, which could make the current problems even worse,” he added. "We could see a ‘wrong winner’ election – where the biggest party did not win the most votes – another hung parliament, and wasted votes in the millions. It’s time to join other advanced democracies in backing a fair voting system where seats match votes.
“This must be the last election conducted using Westminster’s scandalously unfair electoral system. It’s time for Westminster catch up with the rest of the world, with proportional representation and an end to disaster of winner-takes-all voting.”
Hughes is scathing in his assessment of the nature of the upcoming ballot.
“This election will be a ‘hold your nose’ ballot, with one in four feeling forced to vote tactically for their second or third choice,” he said. “A snap election guarantees nothing but an unfair lottery for voters. Let’s build a democracy fit for the 21st century, with an electoral system that encourages cooperation, not gridlock.”
Professor Sir John Curtice, speaking on LBC Radio today, suggested that the December election is likely to see a very high number of votes being cast for parties other than the traditional ‘big two’.
In June he told the ERS: “There is little doubt that Britain’s traditional two-party system is facing its biggest challenge yet in the wake of the Brexit impasse. If that challenge persists, it would seem inevitable that there will renewed debate about the merits of the first-past-the-post electoral system.”
The latest YouGov poll puts Labour – under the controversial leadership of Jeremy Corbyn – and the Conservatives on joint support of just 59% – far below the combined result of 82% they reached in 2017.
The horrendously warped nature of the system is neatly encapsulated in the following figures.
In the 2017 UK general election, it took 43,000 votes to elect a Conservative MP; 49,000 for Labour; nearly 200,000 per Lib Dem; and over 500,000 votes for the Greens’ single MP.
In contrast, it took just 28,000 votes per SNP MP; and 29,000 per DUP MP. The SNP, Greens, Plaid Cymru and Liberal Democrats all support the introduction of proportional representation.