There is no reason not to use a fairer electoral system other than the self-interest of big parties
It’s a sad day for democracy when a party’s vote increases fourfold and yet they are left in exactly the same position as they were five years before. But that’s exactly what happened to the Greens on the 7 May. From just under 300,000 votes five years ago to over 1.1 million this election, the Green Party have won over more people than many thought possible and have only just fallen short of the numbers predicted in the polls.
Despite this good news for the Greens, Brighton Pavilion remains their only seat, with Caroline Lucas receiving 42 per cent of the vote there.
Speaking moments after her victory, Lucas rightly said that this had been “the Greens’ most successful election campaign ever”. But her speech, though impassioned, seemed fruitless; how can progressives hope for change when four times the number of votes results in the same number of seats? Amid cheers, Lucas went on to call for electoral reform, specifically proportional representation.
Lucas has spoken about proportional representation before; the issue arose in the interview Russell Brand held with her and Natalie Bennett. Bennett’s idea that civil activism is the only way to get ‘the turkeys to vote for Christmas’, as she put it, seems to be reflected throughout society – grassroots activism has really taken off in recent years, from websites like change.org (which is, incidentally, is hosting a petition calling for proportional representation) to the Occupy Movement and beyond.
Proportional representation is anathema to the big parties. Labour and Conservative would lose their safe seats, and for this reason it makes sense for them to retain the first-past-the-post system. But for minority parties like Greens and UKIP, what would be branded a ‘protest vote’ in a FPTP system is a meaningful vote under a PR system.
Some institutions in the UK already use it; other than the obvious European Elections, the Welsh Assembly uses a form of proportional representation, along with the Scottish Parliament Elections, the Greater London Assembly and all of Northern Ireland’s elections. PR is already in widespread use – there is no reason to not use a fairer system in the General Election other than opposition from the big parties.
The Green Party aren’t only calling for a new system of voting. Their belief in the participation of the people stretches further than civil activism and a representative electoral system. In the same interview with Brand, Bennett speaks of their plans for a people’s constitution convention, an idea which would place people at the heart of political issues. This has been championed in Bennett’s open letter to the heads of the three then-largest political parties, and in the Green Party’s manifesto.
In the same manifesto they lay down, in simple terms, genuinely progressive policies – an elected House of Lords, state funding for parties, and referendums on local decisions, to name a few. These policies, the aim of which is to make government the truly representative body it purports to be, are needed in a system which gives a party like the Greens one seat when, proportionally, they deserved 24.
Only with real electoral reform can this system become properly democratic – reform which gives power back to the electoral body for decisions big and small, which gives the electorate both fair representation and responsibility for their choices, and allows smaller parties, whether that be the Greens or UKIP, real say in political decisions. These ideas aren’t radical – they are necessary.
James Alston studies History at Cardiff University. Read his blog hereLike this article? Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by making a donation today.