Every vote counts (except the ones that don’t)


May 6, 2015

I feel like these last few weeks I’ve done nothing but see and hear dull men in dull suits, speaking in dull tones about potentially very interesting things, whilst making them all sound pretty dull. If you’re thinking I’ve been watching lots of Top Gear repeats on UK Gold then you are my type of Clarkson-a-phobe….. but of course I’m referring to the general election 2015. That makes me sound a bit disconnected and disaffected, doesn’t it? Well, it’s nearly, but not quite, the case.

I’m hugely interested in politics, the state of the country and everything that goes with it. As a child in the late 80’s and early 90’s I remember watching Prime Ministers Questions in utter fascination on TV. The BBC sitcom Blackadder aside, I’d never seen or heard put downs, delivered with such eloquence, cruelty, viciousness and wit. In short I like politics and I like all the theatre and drama that goes with it. So you might say, it isn’t that I don’t enjoy being in the shop, or appreciate the products within; but rather, that my issue is with the method in which they try to get us – i.e. the electorate – to browse and actually make a ‘purchase.’

UK politics at a national level is based on something called First Past The Post (FPTP) and is, as the name suggests, a good old fashioned race to the finish line, where only one prize awaits for just one winner. And whilst that system is fine in certain sports, for politics it seems less than ideal. It clearly can often be the case that more than just one of the runners in a race has something positive to say or do, but our system means we end up with sometimes up to 70% of people’s opinions and preferences being discarded, in favour of the 30% minority.

That it is surely an outdated system unfit for a modern electorate is proven by the fact that every devolved government within the UK has utilised a different form of voting. If FPTP was so good, surely it would have been used not only for the London Assembly but the Scottish Parliament, Welsh Assembly and the Northern Irish Assembly too?

First past the post fans argue that forms of Proportional Representation (PR) result in indecisive parliaments with no party having a majority, resulting in coalitions having to be formed and weak government resulting. They also argue that FPTP usually results in majority governments. Scotland and Wales both have PR currently – both with one party in government. In Westminster we have FPTP – and have just had a coalition for the past five years (with another to follow, based on what all the polls are saying). All those arguments aside, my main gripe with FPTP is simply on a fairness level. Let me share a few statistics to help me illustrate.

At the 2010 general election….

The Conservatives got 47% of the seats in Parliament from 36% of the electorate voting for them, Labour 47% of seats from 29% of votes and the Lib Dems 9% of the seats from 23% of the votes
Sinn Fein’s 0.6% of the vote got them 5 seats, whilst UKIP’s 3.1% resulted in no seats. UKIP’s vote reflected as seats in Parliament on percentage terms should have actually got them 19 seats
The Democratic Unionist Party got 168,000 votes, resulting in 8 seats, whilst the Green Party got 285,000 votes, resulting in just 1 seat
For Labour, 33,000 votes = 1MP, for the Conservatives, 35,000 = 1MP, for the Lib Dems, 120,000 = 1MP, for the Greens, 285,000 = 1MP and for UKIP, 900,000 votes got them ZERO MP’s.
So the next time you hear someone say that your vote really matters…. you now know whether it does or not. In short, it does if you vote for the winner in your constituency, it didn’t if you voted for anyone else. I’ll still stay up late on election night to see the results come in, to see how high-tech the swingometer has got, to see at what hour David Dimbleby looks like he really should get to bed – but if I want to see MY VOTE really count, I’ll probably need to stay up for quite a while longer.

by Damian Smith

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