Article // Electoral reform is like, so in this season

Two months has passed since the election, and politics has morphed from something we’re part of, to something that’s out of our hands. Word on the grapevine is that 74% of the votes cast in the 2015 election went to a losing candidate, and so they didn’t count. So it’s like having a vote but also, crucially, not having a vote. Oh, you like numbers, punk? I’ll give you numbers. UKIP got 3,881,099 votes, and 1 seat. Probably not even a proper seat with the green leather or the wood because there aren’t enough of them to go around, so poor old UKIP MP Douglas Carswell has to bring a fold-up three-legged camping seat and prop it up near the speaker’s throne. Because he’s separated from his party, no one wants to sit with him in the canteen; he has to eat it in the toilets with his toes turned inwards. The SNP got 1,454,436 votes and 56 seats; that’s enough people for a modest wedding. Doesn’t seem fair, does it.

UKIP votes

There’s a pick’n’mix selection of different flavours of political issues out there, all triggering arguments between lefty luvvies and right wingers, but this issue is one wrung up the ladder of importance. Your vote should count baby, it don’t matter if you’re left or right (uh, shamone). All 74% of us should meet up and be made to awkwardly shake hands like people do in church. At a time when we’re all so divided, we finally have an issue that we can unite over. Cushty.

I know there’s an awful lot to be getting on with. When there’s too much to do I tend to panic and get stuck refreshing Facebook with machine gun tempo until I remember to breathe again. I let the less important stuff slip, like changing my bed covers or being there for close friends in their time of need. And there’s always a tonne of political issues that need to be sorted out. But electoral reform is the precursor to any real political change, because it’s the only way to truly reflect the nation’s preferences. This is the most important of our 99 problems, bitch. Electoral reform is the broken eggs needed for the omelette, the proposal before for the marriage, the weird cat burps before the fur ball. If your only chance of being heard was a vote that wasn’t counted, then what’s the point of leaving sarcastic comments all over David Cameron’s Twitter account? (Guilty as charged).

The referendum on switching from First Past The Post (FPTP) to the Alternative Vote (AV) in 2010 was a choice between X Factor and Britain’s Got Talent, and like those shows, your vote will not be counted but you may still be charged. In AV, you vote for candidates in order of preference but there’s still only one winner. If you’re living in a safe Tory constituency and you vote Green, with a dark irony your vote will end up in the recycling. The Alternative Vote isn’t a viable alternative, because it’s not representative enough for multi-party politics.

All is not lost; the clever folk running the Electoral Reform Society have devoted time, effort and someone’s very swish graphic design skillz to the cause of finding out a more intelligent way to run the country. Not only do they dollop out the criticisms, which I’m a dab hand at, but they back it up with hardcore gritty evidence. Plus, they describe a well-researched viable alternative voting system to boot, called the Single Transferable Vote (STV). Checkmate.

I slotted my semi-circle glasses on to the end of my nose and completed a full montage scene of research on STV, looking up research papers, writing down notes, scrunching up paper and throwing it in the wastepaper basket with less and less accuracy. Half an hour later, I feel enlightened; it’s not the shambolic hippy free-for-all you’d expect an alternative to be. Thankfully the Electoral Reform Society have chewed it up into a more easily digestible morsel of information:

It’s quite simple – you rank your candidates. If your first choice doesn’t have enough support to be elected, your second choice is used instead. The candidates with the least votes are eliminated until the 3-5 seats in your area are filled. Not only do seats better reflect how people vote this way, tactical voting is almost eliminated – you don’t have to vote for a ‘lesser evil’ anymore. ‘Safe seats’ become a thing of the past. And every contest becomes just that – a real contest.

Seems straight-forward. The biggest difference is that our constituencies will be represented by a small group of MPs, rather than one leader. Shucks, that’s a lot less waste of votes. Just have a look at what this voting equivalent to Cillit Bang can do in just one wipe:

Graph SVT

54 MPs still isn’t quite up to the 80 that party deserve after the votes they got, but it’s a start. My main concern is that an issue like this is too administrative and academic to really stoke people’s motivation enough to protest. Will we ever restore our democratic rights? Will the Electoral Reform Society triumph as it fights for justice, law and order? Will our heroes be able to save the world against these impossible odds? Tune in next time for more, Mere Speculation.

Graphs from Electoral Reform Society, (2015) The 2015 General Election: A Voting System in Crisis. Available online: <http://www.electoral-reform.org.uk/sites/default/files/2015%20General%20Election%20Report%20web.pdf>

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