After the results of the General Election on Friday, there have been some noticeable signs of wasted votes and underrepresentation due to the First-Past-the-Post-System being in place rather than Proportional Representation to determine the number of MPs and the next Prime Minister in Parliament.

The final result of the 2015 General Election was a Conservative majority with 331 seats, Labour securing 232, the Lib Dems with a mere 8, SNP with 56 out of 59 seats in Scotland and UKIP and the Greens with 1 seat each. The election led to the resignations of party leaders Ed Miliband, Nick Clegg and Nigel Farage. Yet amidst this political storm there were concerns over the inaccuracy of opinion polls, the voting results also revealing that the proportion of parliamentary seats does not accurately reflect the proportion of votes cast.

The 66.1 per cent election turnout and how the parties would have compared if the results were based on votes alone, shows a very different result. Because constituencies vary widely in population size and a party just needs to be the most popular rather than gain a majority to win a particular seat, the number of seats a party wins at the election does not reflect the total votes it received. With just 36.9 per cent of the vote secured by the Tories, they would have gained 51 per cent of the seats whereas Labour’s 30.5 per cent, would have translated into 36 per cent of the seats. The SNP, with 4.7 per cent of the vote, would have achieved almost double that percentage of parliamentary seats. Although UKIP have secured 12.6 per cent of the vote, it has just won them 1 parliamentary seat – a striking difference considering it succeeded in winning the third highest number of votes overall in the election. So is our current First- Past-the-Post voting system fair?

In Western Europe, 21 out of 28 countries use Proportional Representation including Germany, Ireland, Norway, Spain and Switzerland. How it works is that the number of seats a party wins in an election is proportional to the amount of support amongst voters. There are several ways to achieve these proportional results: party list as well as, mixed-member and single-transferable vote. These methods are devised to solve the problems caused by plurality majority voting systems and provide a more accurate representation of parties, better representation for political and racial minorities, fewer wasted votes, higher levels of voter turnout, better representation of women, greater likelihood of majority rule, and little opportunity for gerrymandering.

In Britain, First-Past-the-Post, also known as Single Member Plurality, Simple Majority Voting or Plurality Voting, works by taking place in constituencies that elect a single MP. Voters will put a cross in a box next to their favourite candidate and the candidate with the most votes in the constituency wins, and does not need to secure a majority. However, all the other votes will count for nothing. Therefore, those who are in ‘safe’ constituency areas where a certain party has a high majority, would consider giving their vote for a different party a wasted one.

FPTP is the second most widely used voting system in the world after Proportional Representation. Its merits have been argued to include the following: it is simpler to understand; it doesn’t take very long to work out who has won; a voter can clearly express their view on which party they think should form the next government; it tends to produce a two-party system.

However, the disadvantages of FPTP include: representatives can get elected on tiny amounts of public support; it encourages tactical voting; wastes huge numbers of votes cast; restricts voter choice; can encourage attempts at gerrymandering; large areas of the country can be disregarded where there are safe seats and ignored when framing policy; arguably, encouraging two-party politics may no longer be relevant in a multi-party culture where support for smaller parties is on the rise.

So the results don’t make a lot of sense when considering the number of votes cast. UKIP won 12.6 per cent of the vote and only managed to get 1 MP into Parliament. Yet in comparison, the SNP only got 4.7 per cent of the vote and returned with 56 MPs. Under a proportional voting system the SNP’s landslide of 56 seats would have been reduced to 31 and UKIP would have gained 82 seats. The Lib Dems would not have been wiped out, retaining 51 seats instead of 8 and the Greens would have won 24.

Of course, all this could just be considered as the grumblings of the bitter losers in the election, especially when electoral reform in favour of the Alternative Voting system was rejected by a national referendum back in 2011. The public voted 68 to 32 per cent against changing the system on a 41 per cent turnout. On the other hand, a recent survey by the Independent shows growing support for constitutional reform as pollsters, OBR who questioned more than 2,000 people this month found that 61 per cent believe the system should be reformed so that smaller parties are better represented in Parliament. The results of the election may now alter public perception of the fairness of the current system and how democratic FPTP really is.

Over 4 million people voted for UKIP as well as over a million people voting for the Greens. Regardless of whether someone may agree with either of these smaller parties’ policies, this election has shown that there is an increase of support for minority parties. However, due to the current system, millions of votes have amounted to nothing and millions of voices have not been heard.

 

Sources:

http://www.cityam.com/215391/general-election-2015-how-parties-would-compare-if-it-were-based-votes-alone

https://www.mtholyoke.edu/acad/polit/damy/BeginnningReading/PRsystems.htm

http://www.electoral-reform.org.uk/first-past-the-post

http://i100.independent.co.uk/article/heres-how-the-election-results-would-look-under-a-proportional-voting-system–gJenQmaW2gW

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/generalelection/general-election-2015-sixty-per-cent-of-people-want-voting-reform-says-survey-10224354.html