This post is something that will probably go against my friends in the Conservative Party. But with the way the system is broke and no longer fit for purpose we must take this on our electoral system. The result of the 2017 General Election has seen another hung parliament, the second in my lifetime and it has seen the Conservative Party lose the majority it had won in 2015. In the wake of the results I have been thinking about what kind of cycle of government we are going to see in the next 100 years from now. For that reason I have decided that we can no longer elect our leaders using first past the post anymore, it’s time to bring in proportional representation.
Let’s start with a story about how the cycle of the British government has gone through over the last 300 years. Since the creation of the House of Commons it had undergone three different cycles of two major parties. First there was the Tory and Whig parties from 1707 – 1827, then there was the Conservatives and Liberal parties from 1858 – 1924 and then we have had a cycle of Labour and Conservative parties between 1924 to the present day. Now here we are in the 21st century with a new cycle of government emerging, but it’s not coming from two major parties.
The last 300 hundred years of government have seen the parties elected based on ideology and class in the form of conservatism, liberalism and socialism. Well nowadays the general consensus for electing a party is based on the issues of the current state, the age of the voters and their aspirations. People treat their tastes in politics on a consumer choice like basis. Such as issues like immigration and welfare, business and public services, foreign affairs and international trade, etc.
This approach to politics is more about people and issues than ideas and personality and it has led to the rise of minority parties that focus on single issues like environment, national sovereignty, localised affairs in the nations and regions, British unionism and Irish republicanism. This is acknowledged by parties like UKIP, the Green Party, English Democrats, Scottish National Party, Plaid Cymru, SDLP and Democratic Unionist Party. Unfortunately for these parties first past the post puts them at a disadvantage, because with the Conservatives and Labour as the biggest parties they haven’t got much chance of governing country and find themselves working more as a protest faction within the opposition rather than a government.
Over the last ten years I have seen two hung parliaments in my lifetime and that is a sign that the system can’t produce an effective government anymore. FTPT only works when the party with the highest number of votes has more than 50.6% of seats which gives them 326 out of the 650 seats in Parliament. Anything less than that means either a minority government or a coalition of parties. Fifty years ago a winning party could win 90% of the vote, nowadays they’d likely to score around 40% – 50% of the votes because there are too many parties. For this reason I wholeheartedly support proportional representation. It is the most widely used electoral system across the whole world.
Proportional representation works by using multi member districts so you can get more than one MP for a constituency that can come from more than one party. So in my constituency in Romford I can get one Conservative, one Labour and one UKIP MP to represent me in Parliament. That sounds like a means to give more MPs in Parliament. So for PR you’d have to use one super district. That means that Romford could be made into a larger constituency or amalgamated with another district like Hornchurch, Upminster, Rainham and Dagenham. That will put a lot on the plate of my MPs in government!
There are several different ways in which proportional representation is used. The two most widely used are party list PR and single transferable vote (STV). But in all of these types the votes are divided to measure the proportionality. As well as getting a threshold to win the seats there are different methods of calculating seat allocation. The two main types are highest average and largest remainder. Highest average divides the votes by either the D’Hondt method which involves the dividing the number of party votes by the number of seats allocated to the party plus one, or the Sainte-Lague method that divides the number of seats allocated multiplied by two plus one. Largest remainder on the other hand has a party’s vote share divided by a quota made up of the number of seats available. This methods leaves a number of seats unallocated and they are taken by parties based on the largest fractions of seats they have remaining.
Party list PR has the candidates listed by a party on the ballot paper and voters choose which of those candidates from that list using open or closed lists. With a closed list the voters choose a party only with the candidate for that party already chosen. In an open list the voters choose the party and the candidate. With this system you can have large or small districts.
The STV uses small districts and allows voters to choose individual candidates with no preference to a party but you rank them in order of who you prefer. When it comes to the count the votes that would be wasted from not winning in FPTP are transferred to other candidates according to those preferences.
Another form of PR is called mixed member proportional representation (MMP) also known as additional member system. It is a hybrid of FPTP and PR whereby voters have a mixed electoral system. Voters have two votes to make, one for their district representative and the other for the party list. The party list determines the balance of power in parliament. Once all the district representatives have been given their seats candidates from each party elected to top up each party to the overall number of parliamentary seats.
Of all the proportional representation systems that I think can work for Great Britain I think our parliament can work with one adopted by Denmark in 1920. They use the party list PR to elect their MPs to their parliament called the Folketing. They introduced PR into their government when they kept repeatedly experiencing hung parliaments at the beginning of the 20th century. It’s been very effective in getting a strong and stable government in office ever since.
What makes the Danish party list PR system special is that they use a two tier party system to keep the collaboration between the parties in harmony working in the mutual interests of the country. Denmark is divided into three electoral regions and ten multi-member constituencies which are subdivided into 92 nomination districts. The first 135 are allocated ten multi-member places and the remaining 40 are distributed compensatory to balance any difference between district level results and nationwide vote share.
Denmark already has a number of political parties in comparison with the UK. But these parties are divided into two main blocs which represent the political spectrum. Blue is right of centre and red is left of centre. This party list PR system can better serve the people of Great Britain because the blocs will make an effective government based on the issues that matter the most to the people.
If you took this system and used the results of the 2015 General Election you would have a Conservative-UKIP coalition with the following seats won: Conservatives (240), Labour (199), UKIP(82), Liberal Democrats(51), SNP(32), Greens (25), Plaid Cymru (4), Northern Ireland Parties(18). In terms of the blocs that the parties here would be allocated to the right wing parties of the Conservatives, UKIP and DUP would have a combined total over 330. A very effective majority and a government that represents the people fairly. It will also give a test of many unelected politician’s character by giving them power.