Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Does your vote count?

Do you vote in elections?  Do you want to have a say in who is running the country, or are you one of the many citizens who have become disaffected and disengaged from our political system?  

What's the point in voting when it doesn't make any difference?

The problem is, that our electoral system in the UK ... the birthplace of democracy... is unfair and unrepresentative, and frankly undemocratic.  Here's why your vote doesn't count in our current First Past the Post system:

The person with the most votes wins, even if most people didn't vote for them.  Here's an example: 32% vote for Candidate A, 28% vote for Candidate B, 25% vote for Candidate C and 15% vote for Candidates D, E and F.  Candidate A wins the seat, even though 68% of the voters didn't choose him/her.

Lets say that this pattern of voting was repeated across the country, with some variation between Parties A and B.  Party C has 25% of the vote across the country, but they have no representatives in Parliament.  None at all.  So what happens?  People don't bother voting for Party C or D or E or F, even if they would like to see them in Parliament, there's no chance that they can win, so it would be a wasted vote, better instead just to vote for either Party A or B, whichever they dislike the least.

Safe seats are those where the majority of voters ALWAYS vote for a particular party.  Voters who would rather see a different Candidate win don't even bother turning up, because there vote is worthless.  The party who always wins that constituency no longer make any real effort to connect with people there because they will win anyway.

This leads to two party politics.  The Government of the country swings from one of the two major parties to the other, and then back again.  It means that investment and key policies in key services like education and health are swinging on a pendulum, from one side to another.  In the last few years, both the major parties have converged on the middle ground with many of their policies, which has allowed a third and now a fourth party (who are further to the left or right) to gain some ground, but in order to do that, these parties have to focus on a few constituencies to get their foot in the door.

Didn't we have a referendum on electoral reform?
We did.  However, the major parties in the UK are in no hurry to introduce real electoral reform, because the current system favours them.  Why would they change a system which works for them, even if it isn't fair and doesn't work for smaller parties and many voters?  The system that was proposed, the Alternative Vote, was an improvement on the current system.  The voter ranks the candidates in order of preference.  If a candidate gets more than half of the first preference votes, then they win.  If not, then second choice votes are added on.  It is more complicated than the current system, and wasn't explained very well.  Many people felt that it didn't go far enough, but it was all that was on the table.

What would be better?
The Single Transferable Vote would be a much fairer way of selecting members of Parliament, and is currently used to select Members of the European Parliament.  In this system the constituencies are larger, and would elect a group of representatives.  Each party puts forward a list of candidates for each constituency.  The voter puts all the candidates in order of preference.  The candidates are selected based on the number of votes that they have, but where a first choice candidate will definitely not be elected, then the voter's second choice gets the vote instead.  You end up with a group of representatives that actually represent your constituency.  It's a little more complicated, but surely we can assume that if its explained to them, then the voters will have enough intelligence to get the hang of it.  

I would certainly rather have a system that's more complicated, than one which isn't fair, and where my vote for the party of my choice is worthless

What electoral system would you like to see in the UK? 

For more information, check out the Electoral Reform Society website, campaigning for fairer and more democratic elections.

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