The case for proportional representation

Should the UK adopt proportional representation for its elections instead of the first past the post system?

'British Flag' / Credit: [publicdomainpictures.net] / [George Hodan}

Is there a case for proportional representation for UK elections? My vote has never counted, and perhaps it never will. At least, that is the case under our broken first past the post (FPTP) system. As someone who lives in a ‘safe’ seat, my vote for a minor party bears no relevance upon the distribution of seats at the general election. There is only one way (generally) for a safe seat to change hands, and that is to vote for the second largest party in your constituency. But why should I vote Labour to unseat the Conservatives? I would much rather vote for a progressive candidate to be my MP, but I would rather see a Green or Liberal Democrat as my MP than a Labour MP.

Of course, there are occasions where a minor party has won a seat from one of the big two parties. Take Caroline Lucas’ success in Brighton Pavilion for example. This is a rare occurrence, however.

As has been argued, FPTP favours the two-party system, but it is worth noting the arguments in favour of FPTP. The current voting system prevents extreme parties gaining seats. It also has a constituency link, so the electorate knows who their MP is. It is worth noting that some modes of proportional representation such as single transferable vote have a constituency link. Another popularly used argument in favour of keeping the FPTP system is that voters rejected changing it six years ago. I find the validity of this case to be an inadequate excuse to prevent changing the voting system. 67.9% of voters in 2011 rejected adopting the alternative vote (AV) system, but this is not an endorsement of FPTP. It was merely the electorate suggesting that the current system is better than the AV system. Take note that the turnout was incredibly low in the referendum at 42.2%.

Why should a party such as the Conservatives who received 42.2% of the vote share win 48.8% of the seats at the most recent general election, yet the Liberal Democrats who received 7.4% of the vote had only a 1.8% share of the seats? I find it to be an incredible injustice that some people’s votes count and others don’t. A proportional representation system can fix this issue. Although the AV system has been rejected, many other voting systems under PR exist. Single transferable vote, party list PR and mixed member proportional representation are among the most commonly used systems.

Using a proportional representation voting method may not fix all the issues with our broken electoral system, but surely it must be a step in the right direction. If Scotland and Northern Ireland can use the single transferable vote for their local government elections, why can’t the rest of the UK adopt this system for the next general election?

Samuel Marc Evans 2 Articles
LLB Law student and political enthusiast! Likes to rant about politics.

9 Comments

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