As the first parliamentary democracy in history, Britain is proud to have paved the way for democracy and human rights. Why, then you might ask, would we bother changing our voting system – one that has protected us from tyranny, dictatorship and, more often than not, led to the formation of a ‘strong and stable’ government?
I, like most Conservatives, was a loyal proponent of First Past the Post (FPTP) for many years, even though having grown up in a Labour stronghold, I knew casting my vote was little more than a ceremonial event. No matter, I still argued it was right we elected an accountable constituency member and respected the will of our neighbours.
But is this system really the best we can do? It was only when I engaged in the 2012 London Mayoral & GLA election, two years after casting my first ever vote, that I felt a sense of excitement at the prospect of voting; and it actually counting. I saw the power of proportional representation and felt empowered crossing my ballot with investment in what would result from doing so.
It is perhaps fateful that after this early revelation I was a beneficiary of this very system when I was elected this May, nine years on, via the top-up list to the London Assembly.
That feeling of empowerment through voting must surely underpin democracy, and is unfortunately a feeling that only a minority currently feel on General Election day in the UK. We don’t need to roll back proportional representation; we need more of it. AMS is currently in play in our devolved Welsh and Scottish parliaments where it has been well received by the public and has not caused any democratic implosions, as of yet.
The UK Parliament should adopt a similar model. I’d suggest thinking of the system as ‘First Past the Post+: retaining constituency MPs while creating a top-up list of regional members.
Constituency representatives would be in the vast majority and still obliged to address casework diligently, vote pragmatically and (try to) avoid scandal or risk democratic retribution at the next election. The system would also capture the political belief of the nation, which yes, would be beneficial for smaller parties but not without positives for our own.
The London Assembly is a case in point of this. A proportional system in London meant Labour weren’t handed a large majority at this year’s election – as would likely have been the case with a First Past the Post system. There are currently nine Conservative Assembly Members in London and 11 Labour, not a striking difference in what is often billed as a Labour city.
This argument would of course play out in the reverse and we would see more representation of other parties in Conservative strongholds, but this competition should be viewed as positive. It is right that we fight for every vote, everywhere, and no association will fall stagnate in their own backyard after years of campaigning with their neighbours. This scenario can lead to sudden shocks – as we’ve seen with a recent high-profile by-election. As in any public or private industry, competition drives up standards and drives down undesirable practices. It’s time, therefore, that we install more, not less of that, into electoral process.
On the flipside, we’d see greater representation in areas we’ve rarely represented, allowing us to build conservative values across the nation. The virtues of our philosophy of government (if not always our application) is an argument we consistently win. We should have confidence in our core message of equal opportunities, valuing individuals and rewarding hard work, and enjoy the springboard that PR would provide in carrying that message further.
Finally, take a trip back in history to February 1974 and we see that Ted Heath won the majority of support in the UK, yet Harold Wilson was able to form a minority government before leading us into a second General Election in October. This doesn’t bode well for a system of accurate and fair representation.
So, perhaps it’s time to accept FPTP is broken and accept the words of a much more powerful voice than mine:
“The present system for Westminster elections has clearly broken down. The results produced are not fair to any party, nor to any section of the community. In many cases they do not secure majority representation, nor do they secure an intelligent representation of minorities. All they secure is fluke representation, freak representation, capricious representation.” – Winston Churchill
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