Why we need to change the voting system

ballot boxSo here we are, election day, all the hype and bluster is over, now it’s time for us, the great British public to have our say and make our voice heard. It’s the one day when politicians feel most helpless, there’s little they can do now to change things, it’s down to us! I’ll be voting, as I always have, but for the second time now my vote will count for very little.

I currently live in a constituency that is pretty solidly Tory, where tactical voting is pointless and protest votes mean little. I’ve never voted Tory and never will, and even if I did I would never vote for the current incumbent (Liam Fox), therefore my vote will have little impact. I am one of many voters who feel somewhat disenfranchised by our voting system.

It’s so different for me now, I used to live in Bristol South so was lucky enough to live in an area where my vote mattered, where who I voted for actually got elected. Back then I lived in an area where there were active political campaigns, where you knew there was an election happening. You’d be forgiven in North Somerset for wondering about that. Apart from the blue signs in farmers fields and the increase in junk mail (sorry, election material) through our letterbox, you’d hardly know anything was happening. And that’s despite the fact that we also have a local council election. Living in a Tory majority constituency and ward appears to breed complacency. The Tories know they are going to win so don’t bother, whilst the opposition know they won’t get anywhere so activity is reserved for the occasional leafleting campaign or being paired with another more marginal constituency, where you’re encouraged to go and help out instead.

I’ve watched with envy the attention being given to seats like Bristol West, which seems to have had more high profile politicians and celebrities visiting in the last few weeks than you could ever imagine. Where I live, there’s been nothing! When the labour candidates for both the local and general election did some leafleting in our village they got positive comments from residents, not because they were necessarily going to vote Labour, but just because they were the only candidates people had seen doing anything!

Last time we had an election, for the local council, I had two votes to use and three candidates to vote for – two Conservatives and one Liberal Democrat. That was it, that was my choice – no choice at all, no Labour candidate and no Green. That was the first time I have ever spoilt my ballot paper! This time, in both the local and general election, there is more choice, but still I’ll end up with a Tory MP and two Tory councillors. So does my vote matter? It certainly doesn’t feel like it.

imagesIn the European election it did matter and did count, because we had a different voting system for that election. I voted Green and my vote helped to get a Green MEP elected for the South West. This time, voting Green in the general and Green/Labour in the local election will make no difference at all, I’ll still end up being represented by Tories. This story is the same for many voters who live in so called ‘safe seats’ where majorities are large and unlikely to be over turned. Until we change the voting system to some form of proportional representation the problem of ‘wasted’ votes and disenfranchised voters will remain. Perhaps in the next Parliament we can have a proper debate about the issue and a real discussion about how we encourage more people to vote. PR is part of the answer but so is greater engagement and responsiveness.

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5 thoughts on “Why we need to change the voting system

  1. Hmm the old ‘Why can’t my vote make a difference’. It really comes down to simple numbers there are 40m+ voters and if every one of those 40m voters votes could make a difference where would the starting point be? What we could is everyone is their own party and we rotate parliament everyday (in a sort of Yugoslavian republic system) so every 160 years each one of us could have our day in parliament. Or we could have a strange rigged voting system where the parties that get the fewest votes get the power (like the Greens), supporters of minority parties love these systems (like the Greens) but as long as they exclude the minority parties they don’t like BNP, UKIP, EDL etc. I can see BCC Council now run by a coalition of UKIP, BNP, Greens and the Lib Dems…… no thanks.

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    • Paul – surely there is a middle ground? Some form of PR based on how it works in Euro elections, Mayoral elections or in Wales etc could help. Why is it that we have FPTP in local and general whilst we have different systems for other elections? I would advocate change to better reflect % of vote and to help voter engagement. At the very least there needs to be a grown up debate about the issue.

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  2. Apparently Tessa’s vote only “counts” if the party voted for is the party that wins. If that was the attitude we’d have an ever increasing number of people who took the same approach with the ultimate outcome that fewer and fewer people vote.

    If there’s not a candidate that fits your particular beliefs then stand yourself or encourage someone else to, don’t moan about it – that’s just the nature of our system.

    Why would we embrace PR – I like to vote for people who CARE about where I live and with PR I’d be represented by a party apparatchik who toes the party line and there’s be no real local representation and, more importantly, local understanding.

    Didn’t Italy have PR and din’t it lead to numerous elections as the coalitions effectively fall apart and didn’t they then choose to move to a “first past the post” system?

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    • Andy – I’m sure we’ve engaged in this argument before? I think you’re first para adequately sums up exactly what does happen – fewer and fewer people are voting because they don’t think it is worth it. I am not merely saying that a vote only counts if the person I vote for wins. I am making the point that in some areas my vote might count more than in others!

      The point about standing if candidates don’t fit your beliefs or stop moaning is an extreme view – not everyone has the time, lifestyle or ability to stand for parliament/council, so not really an answer. For me personally, then yes actually I have been a local councillor and have been through 3 elections myself thank you!

      PR works in other countries. It doesn’t stop you voting for people who care about where you live or who would be good a local representation, so I’m not sure I understand your point there. Depends on the form of PR you have and how it operates. We have resisted it here because it isn’t in the interests of the the two main parties – or at least it didn’t use to be. Views on that may well change.

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  3. On the popular vote, the Conservatives accounted for 36.9% of votes cast, yet end up with a majority of seats in the House of Commons.

    That means that 63% of the electorate who voted, i.e. the majority, had a wasted vote and the will of the minority who voted Tory carried more weight than that of the majority.

    This is clearly unacceptable and highlights the lack of equity in the first past the post system, particularly now that the UK has a plurality of parties instead of just in essence 2 monolithic blocs.

    Something needs to change, but how that will be achieved is another matter as both the Tory & Labour parties have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo.

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