People want to ‘take back control’ — MPs can make that happen today

This afternoon, Caroline Lucas is proposing a motion calling for proportional representation and votes at sixteen


If there was one phrase that won the EU referendum for the Leave side, it was ‘Take Back Control’.

For millions of people, the idea of being politically empowered energised them on 23 June.

That phrase resonated and arguably drove people to the polling stations in the largest numbers for over 20 years.

The flip-side of this is that — whatever your views on the result — many people didn’t actually think their vote would count last month, something which became a common refrain in the aftermath of the result.

So it’s perhaps ironic that people were mobilised to ‘take back control’ – and yet for many it was a vote of protest coming from a feeling of alienation from the political mainstream.

Because the referendum was an unusual phenomenon for a UK-wide poll: every vote counted.  

From the one million (predominantly young) people put off voting because their Green vote ‘wouldn’t count’ in their area, to the UKIP supporters who see their party win over four million votes but just one seat, our voting system is a generator of intense disillusionment.

‘Take back control’ resonated because, in our democracy, you really aren’t in control of the outcome.

At the last General Election, 74 per cent of votes (representing 22 million people) were ‘wasted’ — i.e. they didn’t contribute to electing the MP — while 2.8m voters were likely to have voted ‘tactically’, holding their nose to back a ‘lesser evil’.

And despite the surprise outcome – a Conservative majority – the Electoral Reform Society was actually able to call the winner correctly in 363 of 368 seats a month before polling day due to the prevalence of ‘safe seats’ under First Past the Post.

David Runciman goes further, arguing so many of the crises we are currently facing stem from First Past the Post:

“It empowered Cameron to take a huge gamble despite his tiny minority. It forced the entire Labour movement to line up behind a leader who was not competent to lead them. It wiped out the Lib Dems, who for all their faults have been sorely missed. Proportional representation is usually dressed up as an issue of fairness…but there is a better argument: it is a matter of basic security against misrule by careless and cavalier politicians.”

PR makes it harder for politicians to take reckless leaps in the dark because they have to work together. And politicians would not be forced into bizarre and unstable internal coalitions — the ones that currently make up our fracturing party system — that simply cannot hold and which pave the way for political crisis.

FPTP papers over the cracks of our political system but the cracks are very much there, and growing all the time.  

So when the majority of seats are a complete shoo-in for a party, and all other votes there are wasted, of course people are going to be switched off from the political system – and to jump towards demands to bring power closer to them.

Today, there’s the chance for politicians to put the phrase ‘Take back control’ into Parliament. To put the voters in charge so that every vote counts and millions of citizens’ voices aren’t thrown on the electoral scrapheap, stoking up discontent.

This afternoon, Caroline Lucas, the Green Party MP for Brighton Pavilion, will be presenting a Ten Minute Rule Bill calling for proportional representation and votes at 16.

Her ‘Electoral Reform (Proportional Representation and Reduction of Voting Age)’ motion, while unlikely to become law, is a chance for MPs to put their words into action, and for us to raise the cause of reform in Parliament.

As Lucas says:

“The movement for a fairer voting system is stronger than ever – with support from across the Labour Party, UKIP, the SNP, the Lib Dems, Greens and people across the country. I hope that MPs from across the political divide back this bill and take us a step further towards shifting power away from Westminster and into the hands of voters.”

Writing for the ERS blog recently, Noel Longhurst hit the nail on the head: ‘It would be a fitting and ironic dénouement if, when looking back, the slogan ‘Take Back Control” was ultimately responsible for the development of a democratic system in which all citizens felt that they have a voice, and which was fit for the 21st Century. It is a task in which we should all be engaged.’

Today, there’s a chance for politicians on all sides to listen to the result of 23 June, and to deal with the task at hand in these turbulent times. Let’s make the phrase ‘take back control’ really mean something.

Josiah Mortimer is a contributing editor at Left Foot Forward and works for the Electoral Reform Society. Follow him on Twitter

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6 Responses to “People want to ‘take back control’ — MPs can make that happen today”

  1. NHSGP

    To put the voters in charge so that every vote counts and millions of citizens’ voices aren’t thrown on the electoral scrapheap, stoking up discontent.

    This afternoon, Caroline Lucas, the Green Party MP for Brighton Pavilion, will be presenting a Ten Minute Rule Bill calling for proportional representation and votes at 16.


    What a crap argument.

    First, the problem is that MPs don’t do what the electorate want them to do, and lots of disenfranchised.

    The proposal, rearrange the deck chairs. MP still in control, and they don’t listen.

    Here’s a far better solution.

    1. Open primaries. Neuter selection committees.
    2. FPTP for constituency MPs Just like now.
    3. Right of Recall. Reneged on by the Lib Debs, because they knew they would be up against the wall.

    4. The biggy.

    Referenda on final passage on bills.

    5. With referenda, no need for the HoL. Sacked – the lot of them. I’ve 6 state secrecy certificates because we aren’t allowed to know about the expenses fraud. Signed by the person dishing the cash out.

    So if you want tax rises, get the public’s approval.


  2. Michael WALKER

    If you give the people control, you may get some things you don’t like:

    Fact: Brexit

    Death penalty
    Cutting benefits
    Expelling all criminals with non UK nationality etc.
    Banning Muslims entry to the UK

    Like all changes, there are pros – and cons..

  3. Mark Jones

    I agree with Caroline Lucas and with PR.
    I have never felt that my views are represented in the decision making process. The first past the post system ensures that my minority opinion is defeated and I have no further say until the next election.
    PR would ensure that my vote would count , the same as everyone else’s, in an ongoing way. True, other parties such as UKIP would also see increased representation, which I would not like, but which I would accept as fair..
    It would then be all of our jobs to talk to others in order to arrive at solutions that are a win win rather than the win lose that we have now.
    I grew up in the conservative south where my then labour vote counted for nothing. I now live in Scotland which is unilaterally SNP ( this is actually ok for me since their policies aligns mostly with my own) but I would prefer to be able to vote green and to know that my vote has counted.
    Coalition politics is the way forward. More cumbersome , true, but also more representative with checks and balances built in.
    PR would tell us what sort of country we are . Elections really would enable voters to express their concerns and wishes.. I’m ok with that even if I don’t like the outcome..With what we have now , I feel disempowered and resentful.. This would change our political landscape radically, and it needs just such a change.. I’m tired of listening to my own complaining and I want a real voice , no matter how small.

  4. John Woods

    There are many difficulties with PR at constituency level, apart from its propensity to lead to coalition government. I have yet to hear those difficulties debated seriously by any party and feel Caroline Lucus could do us all a favour by starting that debate.

  5. Ted

    Bring in PR at every level of Government, but on a basis for General elections where the top two run off against each other, or second preferences so we can keep the connection with the constituency. I personally do not want more referenda we elect MP’s who study the subject and make a considered decision, if they make the wrong one we vote them out if Mr Murdoch lets us.

    Two many seats and areas are totally controlled by one party this is not good for democracy, indeed the recent “Take back control of the Country” was in my mind a farce, where I live one party holds all but a few of the Council seats, all the County Council seats and the MP has been the same Party since 1945. This is not democracy.

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