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The British Voting System – in Need of Reform?

As many of you will be aware, May 7th saw the Conservative win the most unexpected majority, opening the door to another five years of a Tory government. But is the system by which the British people voted them in really up to the job?

At the moment we operate a First Past the Post (FPTP) voting system. This means that the electorate vote for the candidate (MP) they want to represent their area in the House of Commons and the number of MP’s from each party determines who wins the General Election. But this system has some noticeable flaws, not least that one party can lose narrowly in many constituencies, end up with no seats and a large percentage of the raw vote. This was seen in the case of both UKIP and the Green Party on May 7th.

In the case of UKIP, 12.6% of raw votes went to the party, yet only 1 seat was secured in the House of Commons. To many, including Mr Farage, this is seen as an awful show of proportional representation. If every vote was equal, then surely 12.6% of the seats would belong to UKIP. My quick sums estimate that that should add up to about 76 seats, not 1!

It was a similar case when it came to the Greens. They secured 3.8% of the raw vote but, like UKIP, only have possession of 1 seat. Again, quick sums suggest that approximately 23 seats would be coloured green if our electoral system was fair.

However FPTP doesn’t just belittle small parties; in some cases the system massively over-rewards parties. As I am sure you are aware, the SNP secured 56 seats in Westminster with just 4.7% of the electorates support. Once again, the maths just doesn’t stack up; an equal representation would be just 30 seats in the Commons – I thought that the Scottish were neglected and unable to voice their opinions in parliament!

So, what are the alternatives to this flawed, biased and unfair system we currently are clinging on to? There are two feasible options we could adopt: Single Transferable Vote or Alternative Vote. First up; Single Transferable Vote (STV).

This system works by everyone having one vote, but the vote not necessarily going to the MP from your personal constituency. Sound complex? It isn’t that bad but this analogy should help! Imagine you have two constituencies, A and B. If we assume that 50% of the votes in A are for the Conservatives, securing a clear majority, but 30% were for UKIP. If we then say that in B 25% of the votes are for UKIP, not enough to secure a majority, but a significant amount nonetheless. If we added the UKIP votes from both constituencies, we would have a confortable UKIP majority in constituency B, ensuring the party one seat in the House of Commons.

The advantage of this system is that parties who consistently lose by a narrow majority would be proportionally represented in Parliament, meaning that, in effect, nobody’s vote would be wasted and there would be no need for tactical voting. The only real problem is that counting the votes takes a very long time and relies on human  discretion, not simple counting.

Up next; Alternative Vote. This system of voting retains traditional constituencies, but instead of having one vote, the electorate get to rank each of the parties in order of preference, with the party ranked first getting the most points and the party ranked last getting the least points. This system means that you can effectively vote for your preferred party and still help the parties you would accept over the opposition. Once again, a practical example may help. If in one constituency there were six candidates, you would give your preferred candidate six points, but your second favourite five points, ensuring that by voting you aren’t giving the seat to your opposition.

This voting system tends to help out where small parties, such as UKIP, have been introduced. Many people speculated before the election that Labour would do better as the right wing vote had to be shared between the Conservatives and UKIP, meaning that a left wing government would prevail even if the majority voted for right wing parties. The problem with this system is that in some cases, such as landslides, it is not in any way proportional representation. In fact it can be worse than FPTP!

So what can be drawn from this? It is clear that our voting system is flawed and the obvious option to ensure proportional representation is to introduce STV. But will that ever happen? Nobody can forecast the future, but I can’t personally see it happening soon!

If you have a different view or idea, please comment below. To find out more about the different voting systems, you can head to: http://www.electoral-reform.org.uk/

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