Our electoral system is hugely unrepresentative and increasingly unpredictable — new report

First-past-the-post is so broken that the Tories would have won a majority in the House of Commons if they'd picked up just 533 more votes.

At the last general election 68 per cent of votes were ‘wasted’, having no impact on the overall result, because of our regressive voting system, a new report claims.

Astoundingly, the Tories would have won a majority in the House of Commons if they’d picked up just 533 more votes — or 0.0016 per cent of voters — in nine marginal constituencies, the report by the Electoral Reform Society (ERS) showed.

Despite winning just 42 per cent of the popular vote in June, the Conservatives gained 49 per cent of the seats in the House of Commons.

In being geared to representing votes at a constituency rather than national level, our electoral system, first-past-the-post (FPTP), is failing to “fairly represent and give voice to this range of voter preferences”, the ERS said.

Wasted votes by region (via the Electoral Reform Society)

Look at the results geographically, and they appear even more unrepresentative: for example, Labour secured 29% of South East vote but got just 10% of seats, while Conservatives won 34% of the North East vote but got just 9% of seats. The ERS commented:

“By placing electoral outcomes in the hands of a small number of voters in a few select places, the electoral system is creating an ever more unpredictable electoral environment”

To put FPTP in context, the election would have been won by Labour had the ballot of been carried out under an alternative voting system, the ERS showed.

If the poll had been carried out under the single transferable vote (STV), Labour would have won 297 seats, the Tories 283, the Lib Dems 29 and the SNP 18.

In addition to how unbalanced our voting system is, it also creates increasingly volatile and unpredictable results.

The movement of votes between parties is at its highest second highest level since 1931 (the highest was in 2015).

“We are witnessing huge changes in partisan alignment and our system is struggling to keep up”

“By placing electoral outcomes in the hands of a small number of voters in a few select places, the electoral system is creating an ever more unpredictable electoral environment.”

The Electoral Reform Society dubbed the 2017 poll the “hold your nose” election, after an estimated 6.5 million people voted tactically — double the estimated 2015 figure — attempting to ‘game’ the system.

They found that 20 per cent of the people they interviewed chose a candidate who was likely to beat the one they disliked, rather than voting for their first preference.

“June’s election has shown first-past-the-post is unable to cope with people’s changing voting habits – forcing citizens and parties to try and game the system”, said Darren Hughes, chief executive of the Electoral Reform Society.

A voting system where a 0.0016 per cent of the population in super marginal seats can determine the next government is surely not fair or stable. Our failing electoral system needs serious reform.

Oscar Webb is a reporter at Left Foot Forward. He tweets here.

 

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