On Saturday, as the campaign for proportional representation gathers strength in Britain, Richard House draws attention to a statement by his MP, David Drew (right):
I’ve long supported electoral reform, which is why I’m backing the Make Votes Matter campaign for proportional representation.
I’m one of 20 or so Labour parliamentary candidates, along with Polly Toynbee, Billy Bragg and others, who’ve signed this letter published in The Guardian today.
We must now commit to reviewing the voting system, especially as the Brexit crisis has tested our constitution to near destruction and left millions feeling unrepresented at Westminster.
We must lead the way to a democratic rebirth – transforming the current political paralysis and creating a democracy that works for the many, not the few. We call on Labour to pledge that the constitutional convention will review the voting system in the forthcoming manifesto.
The following day Reuters reported that about 20,000 people campaigning for proportional representation rallied in the centre of the Georgian capital Tbilisi
They are demanding an early general election because the parliament had failed to pass a planned electoral reform, an immediate move to full proportional representation, scheduled to happen in 2024.
The main opposition parties joined forces to demand an earlier vote to be held by proportional system, the resignation of the government and the creation of an interim government. Activists put locks on parliament’s gates in a symbolic gesture and pitched tents around the building.
A search reveals that of the 43 countries within Europe, 40 use some form of proportional representation to elect their MPs and according to the ACE Electoral Knowledge Network, some form of proportional representation is used for national lower house elections in 94 countries.
Why doesn’t ‘democratic’ Britain already have proportional representation?
Time for change
On Tuesday, politicians from across the political spectrum, campaigners and people from all walks of life (a few pictured below), took part in the Hungry for Democracy action initiated by Make Votes Matter, a 24-hour hunger strike to call for a new voting system, one that truly represents the diverse nature of Britain today.
Labour, Green Party, UKIP, Lib Dems, Women’s Equality Party, SNP, and Plaid all shared a platform to fight for a parliament that truly represents the people.
Proportional representation is advocated to ensure a fairer distribution of legislative seats At present, the power of the vote is determined by geography because of the out-dated first-past-the-post electoral system. People feel disenfranchised and ask why they need to vote when the same party always wins in their constituency. In some of those places the winning candidate is elected on under 50%, and in some instances with under 40% of the vote.
In the last election our voting system made a difference in only 99 of 650 seats.
Over 80% of the public in 2017 voted for one of two parties. An estimated 20% of the electorate voted tactically to keep out the party they didn’t want.
Proportional voting systems used for elections in the Welsh Assembly and Scottish Parliament, have been in place since 1999, providing a good blend of constituency MPs and regional MPs.
Several parties – or groups within parties – are fighting for a manifesto commitment to proportional representation, building a better kind of politics. There could even be a cross-party, shared manifesto commitment to electoral reform and a constitutional convention.
As Steve Beauchampé writes in the Birmingham Press and Political Concern, generations of an elite have ruled this nation (with a few intermissions) for as long as anyone can remember, due to a rigged electoral system.
Their dual achievements:
- comfortable tax arrangements for the few, a political/corporate nexus which ensures highly paid and nominal duties for all in the inner circle
- vast military expenditure bestowed on the arms industry, as rising numbers of the population survive in relative poverty, wait in hospital corridors, receive a sub-standard education and depend on handouts to eke out their existence.
Direction of travel
Beauchampé: “(The) economy is increasingly kept afloat by the economic support of China . . . The modern high-rise residential blocks that have sprung up throughout the capital may give the impression of a modern, flourishing economy, but look closely and you will see that many are all but empty, whilst homelessness and a reliance on subsistence level housing grows . . . “He notes that surveillance is at an historic high with spy cameras, and even microphones installed in many public places -describing the state’s ability to track the population and follow their activities and conversations as ‘frightening’. . .
The elite stranglehold could be broken
OB’s editor agrees with many that electoral reform is a priority for beneficial change – but even under the rigged ‘first past the post’ system, if the weary mass of people (Brenda of Bristol) saw the true situation they would vote for the candidate with a credible track record who would be most likely to work for the common good.
In September elections in Mecklenburg, the home state of Angela Merkel, the rightwing party Alternative for Germany won, beating the chancellor’s Christian Democrats.
In the FT today, Jan-Werner Müller, professor of politics (Princeton), author of ‘What is Populism?’ comments, “The AfD’s subsequent strong showing in a regional vote in Berlin, Germany appears to fit a conventional diagnosis of European politics: populists are on the rise”.
The politics of fear resurfaces; mainstream media, representing corporate advertisers, express fears that this might make individual countries — and the EU — ungovernable
Müller soothes these fears: “What are described as populists are often protest parties which can potentially play a constructive role in existing political systems”. He adds that they are more likely to develop if established parties reject legitimate grievances and pretend there can be no alternative to their policies.
He implies that these can be appeased – witness Theresa May’s current concern for working families struggling to make ends meet – but making no reference to even more needy families – the two generation unemployed. Müller fears less easily deflected “genuine populists who claim that they are the only ones to represent the “real people” and that all other political contenders are illegitimate”.
“The fact that citizens actually cast ballots or peacefully demonstrate shows that they have hope of being heard” – an ill-founded hope?
Müller offers a panacea: “What is needed in Europe is a sense that citizens have choices, and that leaders make decisions for which they assume responsibility. This is important nationally but also at EU level. It presumes that individual nation states in a system of majority decisions can live with being outvoted.” (emphasis added)
This sounds remarkably like the theory of ‘managed politics’ – the current system in England, where two parties have safe seats and alternate in government, ensuring that others are excluded by continuing to use the first last the post voting system.
A BBC report recalled that, since 1935, no government has had the support of a majority of voters according to the Electoral Reform Society. In 1929, 1951 and February 1974, the party with the most votes actually lost the election.
Only an alliance for electoral reform advocated by the Green, SNP, Plaid and Lib Dem parties offers a prospect of a more truly democratic government
As people at the most recent WMNEG meeting were reminded, in 1997, Labour’s manifesto said there was a strong argument for modernising the electoral system. The current shadow chancellor John McDonnell and Labour MPs Ben Bradshaw, Paul Blomfield, Stephen Kinnock, Clive Lewis, Jonathan Reynolds, Chuka Umunna, and Daniel Zeichner have now signed a letter to Mr Corbyn in May calling on him to support a change in the voting system to proportional representation.
More recent polling from December 2015 shows the public now broadly back a proportional voting system. A BMG survey shows 57% of the public agree with the principle that “the number of seats a party gets should broadly reflect its proportion of the total votes cast” – compared with only 9% who disagree.
In July, Green MP Caroline Lucas proposed electoral reform in a private members’ bill which received cross party support but was ultimately voted down by 81 votes to 74.
The party’s new co-leader Jonathan Bartley (right) has campaigned vigorously on this issue for many years.
This was a narrow majority – many MPs abstained: if all persevere, eventually a truly democratic system will be put in place. It is hoped that the coalition government then elected will be one which works for the common good.
Times reader: “Forget about all this Gerrymandering. Wake up. We are still voting as though we were living in Walpole’s era
It stated that of the 50 Commons seats to be cut Labour loses almost half — 24 — while the Tories suffer only 14 losses. New rules which allow for seats that straddle county boundaries are set to benefit the Tories in a series of marginals: Harlow, Stevenage, Great Yarmouth and Carlisle will become far more ‘blue’.
The first draft of the new map, based on electoral registers released yesterday by the Office for National Statistics, will be produced by the Boundary Commission in September and finalised two years later, but the Telegraph produced its own estimate in May 2015:
How the map would look under the new boundaries:
One reader pointed out that making all votes equal is the requirement of democracy only in a first past the post voting system. Even if all constituencies had exactly the same number of voters a democratic outcome would not be achieved.
Katie Ghose, chief executive of Electoral Reform, said: “The constituencies which saw the biggest drop (in seats) are largely student seats and deprived areas — groups which are already under-represented. The areas with the biggest rise are largely wealthier areas. This patchy picture means electoral registration, and the number of parliamentary seats representing each area, is getting more unequal by the year.”
Last word from a Times reader: “Forget about all this Gerrymandering. Wake up. We are still voting as though we were living in Walpole’s era. Politics has changed and so must voting behaviour” – and systems.
Take Back Parliament brings together a coalition of different groups and organisations in the call for fair votes. They include POWER2010, Unlock Democracy, Ekklesia, nef, Electoral Reform Society and Vote for a Change.
Take Back Parliament is not aligned to any political party – instead it seeks a fair voting system so that all parties have representation in Parliament according to the number of votes they receive.
Our “winner takes all” system of First-Past-The-Post is broken beyond repair.
It produces unfair and undemocratic results, like the one we’ve just seen, which don’t reflect the wishes of the British people.
It empowers a few thousand voters in “marginal” seats who decide elections, while those in “safe” seats, where the MP has a large majority, are ignored.
It hands huge power to the ruling party based on a tiny proportion of the vote.
It is time for the UK to move to a proportional system that ties a party’s share of seats to its share of votes across the country. This is the fairest system. It would ensure everyone’s vote counts; it would offer voters more choice and it would produce a government and Parliament that represents the British people. Any change in our voting system must be led by the people, not politicians.
We are calling for a Citizens Convention to be convened to decide on a new voting system to be put to the people in a referendum.
For news of rallies and petition click on the link at the beginning of this post