It’s time for electoral reform

In so many ways, the next election mark a country at a cross roads. In nearly every issue, from economics to foreign policy, there is a clear ideological distinction between the two main parties, which for so long has made politics seem drab and petty.

Yet, the arrival of so many minor parties onto the political stage, drawn from this disillusionment, means more of the electorate can be tapped into and voters will have the opportunity to finally pick the party they like rather than the better of two evils. This can be seen over excitement among people who have never voted before with the growth of the Greens and UKIP, as well as passion to be included in TV debates by the supporters of DUP, Plaid Cymru and SNP.

Nevertheless, with the challenge to the duopoly of Labour and Conservatives comes a challenge to the electoral system that has engrained their dominance. Whichever party or parties make up government and the rest of Parliament, responsibility must be taken to address what can now be seen as an outdated first past the post system.

It’s flaws are displayed in how few seats are able to change hands this election and only serve to highlight why many will be indifferent in casting their votes as it will quite literally make no difference. After all, as Mike Smithson, a Twitter pollster repeatedly points out, the election using the current system is not based on aggregate vote shares but events within individual seats and only a few of them at that. While a simple look at the close polls may incline you to believe every vote will make the difference come May, for large swathes of the electorate this will simply not be the case.

Likewise, as has repeatedly been pointed out by the smaller parties and other advocates of reform, the first past the post system may lead to further disillusionment if its shortcomings are not addressed by suffocating out the chance of success for buoyant smaller parties. At the moment, supporters of the Greens and UKIP, who finally have a party they actually like, are riding a tide in the belief an electoral breakthrough is imminent. Their votes shares are repeatedly above the Lib Dems and there is a genuine feeling among the parties they can hold the keys to the formation of a government the morning after the votes have been counted.

Unfortunately for our democracy this will not be the case. While UKIP’s vote share is repeatedly double and above that of the Lib Dems, they will not in any stretch of imagination receive that amount of seats. That is because of an inherent electoral bias whereby new or minor parties tend to have their support stretched steadily across the country as opposed to concentrated in seats, the latter a phenomenon necessary to have any success in our system. If UKIP and Green’s voters do not reap the seat rewards they deserve then the feeling of exasperation is only likely to be emboldened and their feeling of inability to articulate their grievances emphasised, increasing the likelihood of been drawn to radicalism in the medium to long term.

It’s not just the minor parties this inept system hinders, but the Conservatives too. Only the Liberal Democrats and Labour currently benefit from first past the post, with the Conservatives facing the absurd situation they need to be 6% ahead on the aggregate vote share to stop losing seats to Labour while level pegging will give Labour a comfortable majority. 2015 is likely to be a continuation of the injustice of the electoral system that the Conservatives have for whatever reason refused to readjust. The dire situation is particularly acute in England and was demonstrated, for example, in 2005 when the Tories won the popular vote but still received 92 fewer seats than Labour.

With such injustices in our democracy it is no wonder disillusionment is rife. The population rejected AV not so long ago but the question must be asked if we held the referendum again would the result be different and if not, what would we do?

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