So we have to endure five years of Tory majority rule. All thanks to a system that enables 25% of the electorate, with 37% of the popular vote, to elect 51% of our MPs thereby giving 100% power to the Conservative party.
The significance of this mathematical outcome has not been lost on some of the 63% who didn’t vote Tory. Before all the results were in, people were taking to Twitter to complain at the injustice of a system that saw the Green party secure over 1.1 million votes but only 1 MP. Perhaps a genuine first was seeing placards calling for proportional representation at the little reported demonstration against the Tories that was held in London last Saturday.
But the anger didn’t stop there. Sixteen year-old Owen Winter started a petition on Change.org, calling for a fairer voting system, while the Electoral Reform Society launched their own campaign Make seats Match Votes. Similarly, Avaaz.org also opened a petition calling for electoral reform. What’s more, our disproportionate FPTP system and its PR alternatives were covered by numerous news organisations in Britain and beyond.
So it looks like there is some real momentum for changing our system. Indeed, during the election campaign itself a survey found some 61% of people being in favour of PR.
The obvious question though is will this groundswell of support for PR make any difference? The Tories have no incentive whatsoever to change our voting system; and their are no signs that on this issue Labour is prepared to change either. So aside from the efforts of the SNP, Greens, Lib Dems and other smaller parties, it is going to take continued campaigning to keep the issue on the agenda. So we need to keep petitioning, keep shouting, keep marching, keep tweeting, blogging, lobbying and reporting on fair votes. The argument is being won amongst the electorate, but we need to translate this into support among Labour and Tory MPs.
The case for PR is well made by the Electoral Reform Society. Under a proportional system the Green Party would have an extra 24 MPs, whereas the Tories would have 86 fewer. Now I know critics of PR bang on about strong government, but the last coalition was already a strong government. What people really mean by “strong” is in fact “one party” government.
Of course there is a drawback with PR. On last week’s vote UKIP would have over 80 seats under a proportional system. I agree that’s a frightening prospect. But we shouldn’t cherry pick the parts of democracy we like at the expense of others. If people are inclined towards UKIP, then its up to the rest of us to present an alternative. Indeed, perhaps if we had a system where there were no safe seats (as with PR) then all parties would be more accountable across all of the country.
On 7 May I voted for the Green party. I knew that in the ultra safe Tory seat where I lived it would have no meaningful effect. But unlike previous elections I was not prepared to even contemplate a tactical vote for the next best thing. Another 1.1 million voters did the same. I just hope that next time around I get a chance to make my vote actually count.