Think back to 1 May 1997 and ‘the new dawn’. Finally, after 18 years of Tory control we had a Labour Government and a landslide victory. Now, 24 years later, we are faced with a hard-right Tory government that could possibly be in power for decades. Back in 1997 one of the first things that the Blair administration should have enacted was to change the voting system. However, because we had a landslide victory it was inconceivable that we would ever lose again so why bother? First Past the Post (FPTP) worked for us then and would continue to work into the future, so we thought.
This is not the case. Under the current system it has become difficult for parties that are left of centre to gain enough seats to form a government. There is evidence that FPTP has a built-in Conservative bias. Under our current electoral system, elections are won and lost in a handful of key marginals. Policy has become an irrelevance, as we try to placate as many people as possible in order to win enough votes in these marginal constituencies. To make matters worse, the current system promotes voter inequality as it gives disproportionate power to swing voters in these constituencies. At the last election over 22 million votes (70%) failed to contribute to the election of an MP. In seven constituencies over 90% of the votes were wasted in this way.
- Liverpool Riverside (92.2% of votes were ignored),
- Knowsley (91.9%),
- Bootle (90.8%),
- Liverpool West Derby (90.6%),
- Manchester Gorton (90.5%),
- Liverpool Wavertree (90.3%), and
- Liverpool Walton (90.1%).
If we refuse to take the progressive route – changing the way we vote to a more proportional system and working with other parties to achieve this – the Tories are left to ruin our country with their ‘me first’, uncaring, capitalist, far-right policies. Currently, the government is in a state of disarray but we can be assured that by the time of the next election they will have mobilised to work in their key target areas in order to return yet another Tory government.
The Labour Party had the opportunity to make voting reform a manifesto commitment at this year’s conference. With the backing of 153 Constituency Labour Parties (CLPs) and support from Open Labour, Momentum and Labour2Win the motion that was sent to conference was prioritised for debate. Billy Hayes (former leader of the Communication Workers Union (CWU) and a long standing electoral reformer) chaired the compositing meeting and Cat Smith MP, Shadow Minister for Young People and Democracy, was in attendance, showing her support.
On the Conference floor there were 20 speakers supporting the motion with only two against. Over 80% of CLP delegates voted in favour of the motion. But, the motion failed this year as the unions and affiliates were not supportive. Over 95% of those unions that voted opposed the motion.
The final result was 58% against. How could this happen when this country so desperately needs a left of centre government? Why are we so keen to hold onto the status quo and retain the ‘winner takes all’ system?
It is time to ditch two-party, adversarial politics and to recognise that we need to do what is best for our country. The best and, in my opinion, only way to achieve this is to change our system of elections to parliament to one that is proportional and in which every vote counts.
Ed: This issue has been addressed in several West England Bylines articles, most recently by Claire Jones.