For generation, we have voted in General Elections through an archaic, unfair, and disproportional voting system, with the trade off that it creates stable governments and elects local MP’s to represent the interests of each constituency. However, in 2010, and now more significantly in 2017, this voting system has failed to achieve part one of that, creating stable governments. In 2010 the government got away with it by the fact that it had a stable coalition partner, but in 2017 it has created possibly one of the most divisive government where a party voted by 0.9% of the electorate is holding a party with 42% of the vote to ransom while majority of the electorate have no voice in government. Knowing that this voting system has now failed the only real justification for its existence by making the most unstable British government since at least before the 2nd World War, it is time to look at Alternatives. After all, the system has been infected by all types of tactical voting which stop people from voting for the party they actually believe in as well as many seeing their vote as a wasted vote, and with it, voter apathy has developed.
Of course, Brexit supporters like to boast about the fact that there has been a referendum and my side lost, supporters of First Past the Post (FPTP) will point out there was a referendum to choose a different voting system which failed. The fact is however, AV, or the Alternative Vote was not a strong voting system which Nick Clegg, who led the AV campaign, himself called “a miserable little compromise”.
AV ultimately would not have changed everything because 1. it is still ultimately majoritarian voting system which only demanded that there was a majority in each constituency by second preferences. 2. there is no guarantee that AV would have made voting any more proportional and 3. it did not change the fact many would be stuck with a wasted vote. As it is, with the exception of STV, it is too difficult to cut up the results of the most recent election without intelligent data that I don’t currently have, I will base my argument towards the different electoral systems in the 2010 General Election in the graph bellow.
As shown, in 2010, apart from giving Labour a disproportional advantage and giving a modest rise to Lib Dem seats, AV had little effect on how proportional the result was. Furthermore, tactical voting in current elections further diminishes the overall difference AV would make to how things are now.
The most popular form of alternative voting system which is put forward, and the one the Liberal Democrats wanted and if they were a bit more gutsy in negotiations probably should have got in 2010 was full proportional representation. There are two forms of electoral systems based on a fully proportional representation. There is the list plan, which is far too silly, complicated and confusing to get into other than saying in Dutch elections there are 72 names on the ballot paper; and then there is Single Transferable Vote (STV). STV is basically one vote per person, where you vote for an individual party, and do not vote in a constituency. Parliament is then comprised by proportion to how many votes each party gets. According to almost all elections in British History, this would render no party getting an overall majority, but instead will force parties to go into coalitions. This, as I have argued before, would be a good thing, as it would force parties to work together in the national interests than their own interests. It will also mean, by using the example of Italy for example, that there would be a broader selection of parties to choose from comprising of different ideologies which gives the electorate a wide choice of parties to fit with their views, in the knowledge that their vote will not be wasted.
Above shows how the 2017 Election would have more or less looked if under STV, although, with the knowledge that every vote would count, more people may have voted for smaller national parties. Now, I personally I have a couple of problems with straight Proportional Representation. Firstly, although I feel the current system is wrong, I like the idea of having a local MP who looks after my areas interest. Under STV, that element is lost. Secondly, we have the issue of stable coalition governments. If you look at the seat structure of parliament under STV above, it is difficult to see coherent coalitions. The Conservative numbers, with support of UKIP and DUP would be 300, 26 short of a majority. With the knowledge that the SNP, Greens and Sinn Fein would never ally themselves with the Tories, and that the Liberal Democrats would never align themselves with UKIP or the DUP, it would be impossible for the Conservatives to have a coherent government. On the other hand, Labour would not have enough seats from the Liberal Democrats and the Greens to command a majority, and would need the SNP to prop up any agreement, which would be another unstable 4 party coalition. If you look at the turbulence of many European Countries with proportional representation, particularly Belgium, who were left without a government for 589 days, and Italy, where one of the main coalition groups contains 9 different parties which if in government one party could drop out at any minute and topple the whole thing, it is possible that STV is not the solution.
So if FTFP is too disproportional, AV is too similar to FTFP, but true proportional representation creates the loss of local politicians, gives small % of the population a power swinging say to the whole government, and causes instability, there surely needs to be a middle option? Luckily, the most efficient country in the world, Germany, has thought of the most efficient way to trade of proportional representation with stable governments with the Mixed-Member Proportional Representation System (MMP). MMP, or as it’s known in the UK as the Alternative + Vote, allows UK voters two votes, a vote for an individual to govern your constituency, and a vote for a national party, meaning it is a direct trade off between FPTP and STV.
As seen above from the example of the 2010 General Election, this would had given a differential between the Conservatives and Labour which reflected the difference of the amount of votes each party got, and at the same time would give the Lib Dems a fair reflection of their vote count in that election while also creating a sustainable form of coalition. In 2015 as well, the same voting system would have created a workable coalition (either Tory-Liberal or Tory-UKIP) while proportional representation would have only created a Tory-UKIP-DUP-UUP coalition. MMP also does tend to create stable governments. Since Germany introduced MMP in 1945, it has hosted less elections (18) than the UK (20) and Canada (23) has through FPTP.
Like all systems, there are issues with MPP. For example, The German system has 5% threshold of the vote needed by each party to be allowed into parliament, and this would marginalise parties in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, which may need to be addressed if the UK was to adapt it to stop the chance of wasted votes. MMP also does not solves all the other constitutional issues of how we select our governments like fixed-term parliaments and dealing with the House of Lords. It also would be unlikely to that MMP woul have created a stable government from this months Election result. MMP however is certainly the fairest compromise of how to select governments and far better than the system we have now.