24%. Yes that’s right. That’s the percentage of registered voted who actually voted for the Conservatives. That doesn’t even include the people who failed to register. It doesn’t include 16 and 17 year olds, who are perfectly capable of voting yet continue to be denied the ballot box. And yet, with less than a quarter of the registered vote, the Conservative have wound up with 50.77% of the seats in parliament. The outcome could not be more unfair!
Unfairness wasn’t limited to just the fate of the Conservatives, who are acting as if they have achieved a landslide when they only just scraped a majority. Mind you, if I’d got just shy of double the number of seats as the percentage of those who voted for me, I’d be feeling pretty smug too. UKIP were the biggest losers of this stacked deck: 3.8 million people put a tick next to the Eurosceptic party, but were landed with a paltry single MP. The Greens also suffered heavily. They ended up no better off than last time, despite more than tripling their vote to 1.1m.
Our creaking system also produced baffling quirks. Labour gained votes on the previous election, but lost 26 seats, deemed to be a staggering defeat by political pundits. The election also produced the lowest ever vote share for an elected MP, when just 24.5% of voters selected the SDLP candidate Alasdair McDonnel, meaning more than three-quarters in his constituencies frittered their votes away on nothing.
But the big winners on the night were not the Conservatives, but the SNP. Half of Scottish voters backed the SNP, no mean feat for a party, but the SNP took Scotland in a landslide, taking all but three of Scotland’s seats. The Scottish contingent of parliament now has the same make-up of some pseudo-democratic one-party state. The SNP’s 56 seats are 56 times more than UKIP achieved, but in reality they got less than half the voters.
First Past the Post voting has been exposed for what it is, an unfair and undemocratic system that protects the most powerful parties and denies smaller parties any reasonable chance to get their foot in the door. Everyone across the political spectrum knows this, but only those who are losing out are admitting it (with the admirable exception of the SNP). Over 9% of voters said they voted tactically in this election to keep another party out, denied the right to vote for the party they believed in because they already knew it was a wasted vote. Meanwhile there are people in safe seats that have been voting for the same party for their entire lifetimes and never had their vote count for anything. This election exposed the starkest reminder of our dysfunction electoral system to date: 74% of voters’ votes counted for nothing. They may as well have stayed at home.
A proportionally representative system would have returned 242 seats for the Conservatives (instead of 331) and 208 for Labour (instead of 232). Staggeringly, it would have given 47 to the Liberal Democrats (instead of 8), 20 to the Greens (instead of 1), and a whopping 80 seats to UKIP instead of the paltry singular seat they have been awarded. The SNP would have seen their seats reduced from 56 to 30. Even these calculations do not tell the full story; who knows how people might have voted if they genuinely thought smaller parties had any chance of success at the ballot box because all votes were genuinely worth the same? Remember that 9% who voted tactically? What might their changed votes have done to the result?
Worst of all, the First Past the Post system stifles political debate and negatively affects the way in which politicians behave. Safe seats allow parties to ignore vast swathes of society where they know they have no chance of gaining ground. A proportionally representative system forces politicians to think about the nation as a whole, not the interests of a scattering of key marginals. And with the higher chance of coalitions, it also forces parties to compromise, allowing their most key demands to be met, their less popular ones to fall by the wayside, and satisfying a far greater proportion of the electorate as the result.
We need to step up the pressure and keep campaigning to overhaul our disastrous system of democracy, so that we can restore public faith to politics and usher in a new era of fairness and compromise to our society. Proportional representation is the only system of election that can deliver a fair parliament and re-engage fatigued voters with democracy. Don’t believe the naysayers in the Conservative Party and in Labour; they have a vested interest in keeping this system as it is, for their own power and greed. But they are wrong that this voting system shouldn’t change; it delivers across the world in many democracies that offer a much more representative picture of the nation than ours does. In fact, Global Democracy Ranking’s top ten democracies ALL use proportionally representative systems. It really is a no-brainer.