The fight to change Britain’s voting system

When it comes to elections, Britain uses the first-past-the-post (FPTP) voting system. It’s a winner takes all system whereby the candidate or party receiving the most votes wins, regardless of whether or not it’s a majority.

First-past-the-post has it’s advantages, such as being more likely to produce majority governments than in countries with more proportional voting systems, due to the greater level of political diversity proportional systems enable. FPTP is also really simple to understand compared to other systems that require numbering candidates, for example.

However, first-past-the-post has faced significant criticism. Opponents argue the system is unrepresentative, theoretically depends on how lines are drawn on a map and leads to tactical voting and voter apathy as a result of “wasted votes”. All of this puts into question how democratic the UK really is.

Frustrated with the voting system, Klina Jordan co-founded Make Votes Matter. An organisation that campaigns for proportional representation in Parliament.

“I think the most striking thing about the 2019 election is that once again, we’ve got a government elected on a minority of the vote”

Klina Jordan, Make Votes Matter co-founder

“The last time a governing party had majority support from voters was 1931 so to me this is a huge democratic deficit. We really need to sort it out and bring in proportional representation”.

In the 2019 election, the Conservatives received 43.6% of the vote but ended up getting 56.2% of the seats in the House of Commons, giving them what was described as an “overwhelming majority”. Prime Minister Boris Johnson said that the election result gave him a “stonking mandate” to “get Brexit done”, despite his party receiving a lower vote share than received by remain in the 2016 Brexit Referendum.

But whether you’re Labour, Conservative or Monster Raving Loony Party, Klina insists that this is a cross-party issue. “This has nothing to do with whether one wants the Tories or Labour or whoever in power, it’s just that we don’t have a democratic outcome to elections”.

And indeed, that does seem to be the case. Under a proportional system, the Green Party and Brexit Party would both receive significantly more MPs than they have currently, with the Greens currently only having a single MP and the Brexit Party having none whatsoever.

But how do you introduce a voting system that would ultimately take away power from the “big two” parties that benefit from it?

“The reality now is that first past the post is not advantaging the Labour Party. For the last two elections they’ve basically got a proportional outcome regardless of the fact that historically they’ve sometimes had an advantage from it. They do individually in some seats I’m sure but overall they don’t.”

Klina and the Make Votes Matter team are currently working with Labour parties in each constituency in order to put proportional representation on the table. “We send expert speakers out to them and they then put forward motions on proportional representation and there have been 80 so far which is about 12% of the constituency Labour parties.”

“And we’re now also working to put motions forward from union branches as well because they obviously have huge sway within the Labour Party”.

But it’s not just Labour that Make Votes Matter are focused on. Klina has big ambitions for 2020 and beyond.

“We’ve just done a creative action just outside Parliament where we had people in coloured T-shirts representing how people voted and then people threw powder paint at each-other”. She chuckles, “obviously non-toxic, water based powder paint”.

“People change colour and it showed that then they ended up with representation they they hadn’t chosen”

Klina states with optimism: “I would absolutely love for us to be doing more really big, impactful creative action.”

“Maybe not shutting down all of London like XR” jokes Klina, “but certainly really eye catching stunts to illustrate disproportionality and bring it into the public focus.”