(Picture, Democratic Audit)
BY ALEX MEREDITH, Contributor
The 2011 UK wide referendum that sought to question whether Britain should maintain its First Past the Post (FPTP) electoral system, or replace it with the Alternative Vote (AV) system, saw approximately 68% of voters rejecting the change on a turnout of just 42%. Unlike the 2016 EU and 2014 Scottish independence referendums, it can be argued that there was no real choice whatsoever in this referendum when it came to initiating a substantial amount of change within the electoral system. Ultimately, the AV system is another form of majoritarian system similar to that of FPTP-the only difference is that candidates are ranked in order of preference, with any candidate winning more than fifty percent of the vote first time, being elected, or failing this threshold, having the second preference votes redistributed as the candidate with the lowest number of votes being eliminated, until one candidate wins. Thus, this still replicates a winner takes all, disproportional electoral outcome.
And yet as we saw in the 2019 general election, the proportion of votes did not correlate with the amount of seats won by each party, with the Conservatives winning 365 seats on just 43.6% of the total votes casted for them, despite winning a landslide majority of eighty seats. This is not the first time we have seen a disproportional general election outcome, with the 2005 general election, seeing New Labour win 55% of the seats on just 35% of the vote casted for them, and Cameron’s Conservatives winning a twelve seat majority with just 36.9% of the vote casted for them in 2015. As we have seen a desire to change the electoral system amongst third and smaller parties, who are notoriously excluded from the ‘First Past the Post’ system. Caroline Lucas, leader of the Green Party, referred to it as being ‘rotten the core’ during her victory speech in her constituency of Brighton Pavilion in 2019, most relating to the national vote share of the Green party increasing yet still only winning one seat overall. This is also shown to be the case amongst other third parties who retain opposing beliefs (i.e. the Brexit Party), also remained committed to replacing FPTP with PR as outlined.
Proportional representation (PR) on the other hand, such as the list system, means that the total number of seats are won by each party based on the proportion of votes each candidate receives, so if a party wins thirty percent of the vote, they would return thirty MP’s to Parliament. This means that voters are less inclined to vote tactically (something that was heavily raised at the recent 2019 general election) and thus vote for their true favourite candidate, rather than a mere attempt to stop their least favourite candidate from getting elected (tactical voting), as is the case with majoritarian systems.
Therefore, given that the referendum did not offer a noticeable choice between two clear, distinct, and contrasting electoral systems (of which would ensure all parties are equally accounted for and are not excluded as they are within majoritarian systems), I would therefore like to suggest that a referendum on the electoral system would involve a choice between keeping the current FPTP system, or replacing it with a form of PR, rather than just replacing FPTP with another majoritarian system such as AV, in which would blatantly produce similar outcomes within a different format, and also perhaps explained why turnout was so low as outlined previously.