How England’s electoral system is silencing green voices

The Greens did not get as many council seats as their vote share merited

In last week’s council elections, Brighton and Hove voted resoundingly for Green Councillors.

We topped the poll across the city with 4,000 votes more than any other party and were the only political party to increase our vote share in every ward.

Leaping from 11 to 19 councillors overnight, Greens took seats from both Conservative and Labour Parties as well as holding every seat we won in 2015. Our achievements mirrored successes across the country, where the Green Party saw its best-ever council election results.

Having won the popular vote in the city, it would be only right that Greens take control of the council.

Yet despite gaining a smaller percentage of the vote, the Labour Party won 20 of the council’s 54 seats, becoming the biggest party on the council. This is a timely reminder that the way in which our votes are counted in council elections desperately needs changing.

What’s clear is that the current voting system – First Past The Post- is hardwired to suit the two big party establishment.

In Forest of Dean, Greens gained 27% of the vote but took only 16% of the seats. In Norwich, Greens achieved 29.4% of the vote- but only won 23% of the seats.

Greens won huge vote percentages across the country. Breaking onto councils where we’ve never had representation, we doubled our seats.

Yet once again our antiquated electoral system showed its pompous irrelevance.

Voters did something else at last week’s council elections: they howled at the failure of two-party politics to deliver Brexit, and reiterated their disappointment in politicians who fail to represent them. Two big parties might continue to hold power but they aren’t working for those who they represent.

During the campaign in my own ward, some voters had been sold the idea by Labour that in an area which hadn’t returned a Tory Councillor in 36 years, that voting Green would somehow elect a Tory.

Patient explanation of the facts and the hope of the Green message saw them re-elect two Greens with a significantly increased majority but with an electoral system that continues to perpetuate the power of these parties, it’s no surprise that some have switched off.

Tellingly, according to polling from Make Votes Matter, two thirds of people feel that a party’s share of seats should match the votes it receives. A glance at our politics nails the myth that fairer voting systems lead to weak government – we have some of the least effective government and opposition we’ve had in the UK in years.

Labour and the Conservatives continue to deny the range of diverse voices in politics which enrich it. Significantly, countries such as Sweden and Iceland that use Proportional Representation (PR) have much higher gender representation.

It was the London Assembly, a body elected through proportional voting, that first set the precedent for equal marriage.

FPTP is on it’s deathbed, argued our Deputy Leader Amelia Womack last week. For us, it couldn’t come sooner. Greens have been at the forefront of calling for a much fairer voting system for decades.

If we want to tackle low turnout and voter fatigue then we must provide a system that enfranchises voters and allows their voice to make a difference.

As Greens, we believe that system is Single Transferable Vote, making the votes people place proportionate to who wins on the day.

But we can’t stop there, 101 years after the vote was partially won for women, we also want to extend the right to vote to over 1.5 million 16 and 17-year-olds. They can marry with parental consent, serve in the army, direct a company yet not vote.

It’s time for Labour and the Conservatives to face up to the fact that this country has evolved beyond the Victorian binary voting system reflecting just two parties.

Beyond the results of our magnificent election here, along with Greens across the country, we will continue to campaign to overhaul our broken voting system: a stronger, fairer democracy awaits.

Councillor Phélim Mac Cafferty is convenor of the Green Group of Councillors on Brighton & Hove City Council.

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11 Responses to “How England’s electoral system is silencing green voices”

  1. Dave Roberts

    In case you hadn’t noticed this system also keeps out the far right, it’s not just you or are you so self centred you haven’t worked out that there is a big wide world out there?

  2. Mike Letton

    “in case you hadn’t noticed”…….sneer sneer….smells of a lefty with their offensive culture

  3. Elizabeth Chell

    Couldn’t agree more; FPTP is totally outdated. It’s no wonder such a large proportion of the population feel disenfranchised! We can probably pin the Brexit result on this disenchantment with the system; blame the foreigner, i.e. EU! Time for a change but vested interests have been winning out in this country – another cause for concern. Whilst I vote for one of the main political parties I can see that there are other voices in the country that should be heard.

  4. Tom Sacold

    The Greens are a one policy party. They are just a bunch of middle-class snobs whose actions will put ordinary working people out of their jobs.

  5. S Davies

    The Greens haven’t been a single issue party for nearly 50 years, Tom. Have a read of the manifesto to find out about the rest of their policies, including massive job creation for ‘ordinary working people’, making sure that their work is paid at the real Living Wage, etc.

    The idea that FPTP ‘keeps out the far right’ is laughable. What do we have at the moment? And with the Tories having held an absolute majority recently with as little as a third of the electorate’s vote, what’s stopping an even worse party from doing likewise? Meanwhile, in countries across Europe that do use PR, you find far more left-wing governments overall, with parties like the Greens helping steer policy away from racist populism.

  6. Bill

    I see that there are problems with most voting systems. Though I would welcome a change to PR in the UK – if mainly to kickstart wider reform – It is also good to recognise that PR systems can also run into problems especially when long established and stagnation or stalemates occur. Given that those situations are often prolonged or at least exacerbated by similar corruptions, media distortions and local factors that affect our FPTP – is it useful is to look at if, and how countries have succeeded in building resolution mechanisms in constitutional law for when difficulties with any electoral systems arise? We can clearly see the issues in the UK with the lack of constitutional rigour in the use of a Referendum!

  7. Dave Roberts

    Dave Letton.Read what’s on the page. The system is unfair to all but the major parties including the far right. If there was any other system than FPTP then there would be open fascist in Parliament and all of the other tiers of government.
    S Davies. Do pay attention or are you thick Trot?

  8. Alasdair Macdonald

    Dave Roberts, much as I abhor their policies, I think that the ‘far right’ should not be excluded from Parliament and Councils. They represent points of view held by a number of people. Many people who support such parties do so, not because they actually agree with those views, but because the two major parties have let them down. LEAVE was to a fair extent an ‘up yours,’ shout.

    In addition, it is as likely as not that once the electorate sees such people in Parliament or Council chambers, they would see them for the nasty people they are.

  9. Dave Roberts

    Alasdair McDonald.
    I wasn’t commenting on the desirability or otherwise of any party being in Parliament just pointing out that the system is unfair across the board as the Greens in particular always seem to feel they are being picked on.
    I also don’t consider leavers in general to be extremists as the left always portray them as. As you say people are sick of being treated like children and this is a kick up the whatsit!

  10. Mik Clayton

    The fact that the absence of an English parliament elected under a more proportional system (as Scottish Parliament and Welsh assembly are) also silences English voters’ voices.
    In fact I think the Irish system is the best, where you have larger constituencies that elect about 3 TD’s (MPs) and you vote for the candidates 1,2,3 etc. in order of preference. This also gives you a chance to choose between candidates of the same party.

  11. Chris Hart

    In response to Tom Scold – you sound an insulting stupid bloke , The greens should aim for your job first, maybe I will join and help them:-)

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