Just 24% of registered voters crossed the box next to Conservative at the last general election. They achieved just 36.9% of the votes cast, yet through the flagrant unfairness of our First Past the Post system landed a majority in the house. This left the Conservatives with a third more seats than they reasonably deserved, and they weren’t even the biggest winners from this system. The SNP were backed by half of Scottish voters but took all but three of Scotland’s 59 seats, leaving the Scottish contingent of parliament reminiscent of some pseudo-democratic one-party state.
And where the Conservatives and the SNP stood to gain hugely from this statistical inequality, other parties lost out. UKIP were the biggest losers of this stacked deck: 3.8 million people put a cross next to the Eurosceptic party, but were landed with only a single MP. In fact, the SNP received half the number of votes of UKIP but ended up with a whopping 56 times more MPs. The Greens also suffered heavily, ending up no better off than last time, despite more than tripling their number of votes to 1.1 million. Our creaking system also produced baffling quirks; Labour gained votes from the previous election, but lost 26 seats; deemed to be a staggering defeat by political pundits, despite actually constituting a small improvement. 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 of his constituents’ votes counted for nothing.
Increasingly, every election shows up First Past the Post for what it really 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. Over 9% of voters said they voted tactically in the last election to keep another party out. These people were effectively denied the right to vote for the party they believed in because they already knew it was a wasted vote. Meanwhile there are people that have been voting for the same party for their entire lives and never had their vote count for anything, as they live in hostile strongholds.
Critics of proportional representation argue that such a system loses the link between communities and local representation. In a national system, this is certainly true, although evidence suggests that for many this link has already been broken; a 2013 survey showed that only 22% of Brits could name their local MP. Yet it’s right that individuals should be able to lobby a designated MP who advocates on behalf of issues relevant to their local community, and is familiar with their area’s circumstances. But it must also be remembered that while a local MP is supposed to represent the interests of their constituents, the reality is that they are a representative of a party, and therefore usually only represent the issues that are the basis of their campaign platform. If you have a UKIP MP, you’ll be facing a struggle to get them to represent your desire to stay in the European Union in parliament.
So how do we reconcile a fairer, more proportionally representative system of voting with the need to maintain community MPs? May I present to you, ladies and gentlemen: superconstituencies.
Let me explain how this would work. Superconstituencies would be formed by amalgamating existing constituencies into a larger bloc, perhaps in groups of ten, although research and debate should be conducted to confirm the most effective and appropriate size. All of these superconstituencies would reflect broadly equally sized populations. To ensure continued proportionality across the country, a mechanism could be introduce to review these constituencies at every ten year census. Superconstituencies formed from ten existing constituencies would mean there were approximately sixty superconstituencies across the country, although these could be tweaked a little as logic dictates (for example if a superconstituency didn’t quite cover a logical area, like the population of a small town). Each superconstituency would be represented by ten MPs, but instead of submitting a prospective MP to each one, parties would submit lists of ten MPs ranked by preference to voters, who would then vote for their party of preference as they do now. For every ten percent of the vote achieved, each party would gain one MP from their list proportionally. So if 40% of voters within your superconstituency backed Labour, your superconstituency would be represented by 4 Labour MPs, with the rest of the seats divvied up between the other parties on a proportional basis.
Not only would this ensure that communities were still represented by local MPs, but it would actually improve community representation by giving voters a greater choice of local representation towards which they could target their campaigning. The pro-EU constituent currently represented in parliament by UKIP would now have the choice to lobby one of their other superconstituency MPs who might be sympathetic to their view, and therefore more willing to bring that issue to parliament.
This election exposed the dysfunction of our current electoral system in the strongest possible terms, in which 74% of votes counted for nothing. These voters may as well have stayed at home. A consensus is building across the political spectrum that something has to change. Now, only the Labour and Conservative political establishment cynically resists this movement, and even some of their MPs are beginning to shift. It’s hard to ignore reality; Global Democracy Ranking’s top ten democracies ALL use proportionally representative systems. Superconstituency proportional representation is a system that could maintain Britain’s tradition of community representation, while overhauling our creaking electoral system; dragging it kicking and screaming into the twenty-first century. It really is a no-brainer.