Democratic reform: a vote for the health of UK politics

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Over recent weeks the solution to the issue of disengagement from politics, the increasingly ignorant politics of “majoricentricism”, and the petty calls for tactical voting, has become increasingly apparent to me. Our voting system must change.

Our current system, First Past the Post (FPTP), is a winner-takes-all system, in which the person with the most votes immediately takes power in the constituency, regardless of how small their margin of support was. This leads to the idea of “safe seats” in which one party remains in power for many, many years.

Almost half of the 650 constituencies in the UK are considered “safe”. It results in elections being won by the hundred thousand or so “floating” voters, who tend to change their votes. Naturally, the number of floating voters has increased steadily as traditional allegiances decline; valence issues, issue voting, and social mobility increase.

Many people feel powerless in their constituencies, with the old argument of “my vote doesn’t count” now a real threat to the engagement in elections here. If the UK adopted a more proportional voting system more people would feel their vote counts, and increase voter turnout among all demographics – especially young people.

Secondly, the ignorance (or denial, or arrogance) of politicians that this election will still result in a majority government is sickening. Seeing David Cameron and Michael Gove, in recent weeks, speak adamantly of fighting for a majority government, and fail to answer the question of what they would do if they did not win such a government.

The Labour Party is just as bad, ruling out a coalition with the SNP. Meanwhile, the Liberal Democrats are the only one of the traditional three main parties who accept a majority is unlikely to materialise, as too are the minority parties of the SNP, Greens, Plaid Cymru, and UKIP.

This idea that UK politics is grounded in majority government is simply ignorant. With a breakdown of social cleavages in society, floating voters are increasing and so too is the popularity of the minority parties. People are thinking more in issue-based terms than they did before, meaning working class people are not always necessarily going to vote Labour, and those brought up in Conservative families will not always vote Tory.

Therefore, a proportional system would encourage politicians to think about the possibility of coalitions before an election. Of course, people disagree about how effective coalitions are, but it is unavoidable that we will see the number of such governments growing in coming elections.

In Germany, parties actually advertise which party they would go into coalition with if they were elected. This does two things: first, it allows voters to have an honest message from politicians, and know exactly what the plans are of their preferred party; secondly, due to the Additional Member System (AMS) in Germany, voters get two votes (FPTP for constituencies, and a party list for regions): one of which they can use for their first preference, and their second for the proposed coalition partner.

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This would prevent politicians being so ignorant towards the possibility of coalition governments. They may not be the preferred option, but they are increasingly likely to occur in the coming years.

Finally, the duplicitous use of “tactical voting” would be reduced through a PR system. Due to the single-member system in the UK right now, parties can encourage voters to vote tactically to keep one party out of the seat.

Though this might still happen in a PR system, the likelihood that it will have such a negative impact is reduced. Exploiting voters in such a way is shocking. LibDems are saying Tory and Labour voters should vote LibDem to keep the SNP out of a possible coalition.

In a PR system, those who disagree with such a request would vote their way, and still make an impact. Under FPTP, if the LibDems were successful in their request, an SNP candidate would lose to a Liberal Democrat one, and the latter would take all the winnings.

Thus, though a small factor, tactical voting would take a smaller role in elections under a PR system.

I recommend – among all the PR systems – a mixed-member AMS system, used in Scotland and Germany.

Mixed-member AMS combines FPTP and party list voting systems, using the former at constituency level, and the latter at regional level. 73 Scottish MSPs are voted by FPTP, and 56 by party list.

One of the arguments about AMS is on coalitions. AMS tends not to allow for majority governments, normally resulting in coalitions. This was contradicted by the 2011 Scottish election, which saw the SNP win a majority government. Some might argue that this is a failing of AMS, but the blend of a majoritarian and proportional electoral system allows for very popular parties to form majority governments.

Therefore, with a sufficient amount of support, parties can still form majority parties under a PR system. FPTP provides the authority of a single-member system, while the list allows for some proportional representation.

Furthermore, the two votes allow fp01d6crsor greater political engagement, and means those voters unsure about which party to vote for can choose between two different parties. The list vote allows for voters to have a greater influence on the shape of government, increasing voter turnout and engagement.

The SNP has today unveiled its 2015 election manifesto, and includes a pledge to democratic reform. They call for an elected second chamber in the UK to replace the unelected House of Lords.

Indeed, the UK is one of the only countries in the world to still use class as the basis of its upper chamber.

Secondly, they pledge to a proportional system of voting to replace the out-dated FPTP.

Proportional representation is the way forward in politics; it encourages engagement, turnout, proportional outcomes, and does away with the arrogant, ignorant politics of “majoricentrism”.

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