Over the last month, the British election frenzy has heightened. Extra billboards, television broadcasts and campaign speeches have popped up to remind us of the importance of our vote. However, one issue remains: British election results are disproportional.
The current first-past-the-post voting system does have the advantage of being understandable. Its simplicity means the main purpose of public participation is visible. However, the ‘one MP per constituency’ rule means overall results can become non-proportional. This can be seen by the results of the last election in 2010. The Liberal Democrats gained 23% of the national vote suggesting they should be granted 23% or 150 seats in the House of Commons. Yet in reality, they only filled 57 because this was the amount of constituencies they won. This shows an obvious lack of representation and gives rise to suggestions of electoral reform.
However, there have already been attempts to change the system. The last five years have seen challenges against the Conservative and Labour two-party race, the most significant of these being the Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition giving another party a bigger voice in politics. Additionally, 2011 saw a referendum on the introduction of the ‘alternative vote’ replacing first-past-the-post. Although the public voted to keep the existent method, this shows that disproportionality has been recognised as a problem within UK politics.
The first-past-the-post system maybe simple, but it does allow an MP to be elected without gaining 50% of their constituency’s approval; for example, Simon Wright of Norwich South only gained 29.3% of the vote yet he sits in Parliament today. Surely this is unacceptable? Instead, the ‘alternative vote’ would guarantee that an MP gains 50% of their constituency’s vote before winning. Firstly, the electorate number their candidate preference. If one candidate gains 50% or more, they automatically win. If not, the votes belonging to the least popular candidate are redistributed to their second preference. This procedure continues until one candidate has at least 50%. Although this may seem complicated, the results turn out to be more proportional because at least half of their constituent views have a chance of being projected.
The problems of disproportionality are clear. Although the current system appears to be straightforward and producing results, are these the results the majority of the public want? Maybe we are an accepting island which will settle for the outcome rather than disturbing traditions with reform. Let’s wait until this year’s results to see if we are happy then.