Can Proportional Representation Save Our Democracy?

Our voting system has been outdated for a long time. In the last general election we saw the Conservatives gain a majority with only 37% of the vote, UKIP only receiving one seat with 12.6% of the vote and the SNP 56 seats with 4.7% of the vote. The First Past The Post electoral system allows these numbers to be this varied as a large number of the votes don’t count, such as those who voted for the losing candidate in a safe or super safe seat.

 In Britain we live under a parliamentary democracy. In a parliamentary democracy citizens vote to elect members of parliament and the political party that wins the most seats forms a majority government. The only way a parliamentary democracy can call itself democratic is if the citizens have a fair and democratic voting system that elects the government with the majority of the public’s vote. Otherwise, one could argue, that the government who has been elected does not represent the majority of the public and we do not live in a democracy. As FPTP discards a large amount of votes then this argument could be applied to Britain.

 So, what is Proportional Representation?

 Proportional Representation is an electoral voting system where the number of seats a political party obtains in parliament is proportional to the percentage of votes they receive. So when the Conservative party received 37% of the votes they would be represented with 37% of the seats in Parliament.

 Why has it not been implemented in Britain already? 

 One objection to Proportional Representation is the fear that it encourages extremism. This is because smaller political parties have a better chance to be elected into government which could lead to extremist political parties getting into power. Many critics cite Nazi Germany as an example of how Proportional Representation has lead to extremists running a government.

 However, this criticism has little standing. The circumstances in Germany were much more complex due to their economic depression and recent world war. The Nazi party would have been successful under any voting system.

 I also believe this criticism is ignoring the problem of extremism rather than attempting to understand and tackle the issue. When extremists are ignored under systems such as FPTP they feel as if their views aren’t being listened to, which can lead to people feeling alienated in society. As the extremists are unchallenged the extreme views begin to fester into a much bigger problem that has the potential for violence.

 What would be the best voting system that applies proportional representation? 

 The option that is most favoured is called STV (Single Transferable Vote ). This electoral voting system is one of the best at applying proportional representation.

 “STV puts voters in the driving seat”

 Each constituent has more than one MP so that the variety of opinion can be represented in Parliament. When it comes to voting day, instead of marking a cross next to one candidate  the voter puts numbers next to each candidate in order of preference. To be elected into parliament a candidate needs to reach a set amount of the votes that is determined by how many positions are needed to be filled.

 The voter still only has one vote. However, if your preferred candidate has no chance of being elected or if the candidate already has enough votes to be elected then your vote transfers from your first choice onto your second choice. This means that hardly any of the votes are wasted unlike FPTP.

 Is Britain ready for change?

 There has already been considerable support for change as 250,000 people have signed an online petition. This is not only limited to the electorate as political parties such as the Liberal Democrats, SNP, UKIP and the Green party are also in favour of such reform. Proportional Representation has already been introduced in our local elections and in Western Europe 21 out of 28 countries have implemented a form of Proportional Representation.

 However, change can only be enacted through parliament and with 559 out of 650 seats shared between the Labour Party and the Conservative Party, the only way of getting legislature passed is if there is support from these political parties. The drawback here is that the FPTP voting system has great advantages for these parties as it encourages a two-party system. If the voting system were to be reformed then these two parties would no longer hold all of the power. This means it is down to the public to continue the growth of this grassroots movement to protect the people’s democracy.