Angela Smith MP: We desperately need to reform the First Past the Post voting system
If we are serious about changing our politics, then we must recognise the need for a more pluralistic electoral system which gives voters control over the kind of politics they want in Westminster, says Angela Smith MP.
Politics is broken, with both Labour and the Conservatives no longer fit for purpose and utterly unfit for power.
Evidence is also showing voters are losing confidence in our democracy. For example, at the 2015 election less than 50% of 18-24-year olds voted, as compared to nearly 80% aged over 65. Turnout generally in elections is also falling, giving a sense that ‘neither of the above’ is an increasingly attractive choice for British voters.
We are also seeing dramatic divides in terms of how people vote. No longer is social class the driving force. For instance, the recent British Social Attitudes Survey found only 8% of voters strongly identify with a political party, whereas 40% identify very firmly as either Remainers or Leavers.
It is against this backdrop we see the decline of the ‘broad churches' that once represented the Labour and Tory traditions. Both parties have lurched to their extremes and are deeply divided. Both have demonstrated that their own survival is more important to them than the national interest.
I have always supported the First Past the Post voting system, but no longer. Our broken politics has finally persuaded me that we desperately need reform. I had always bought into the rhetoric that it is the only system capable of producing strong and stable government. Yet it is 14 years since a party won an election with a sustainable majority and even then, it was with only 36% of the popular vote. And just look at Parliament now, where we have a minority Government paralysed and fractured by events and the most ineffective Official Opposition of the post-war period.
It is now clear that many voters have been rendered electorally homeless by the political decline which characterises both Labour and the Tories. These alienated voters are desperate for an alternative but know too that First Past the Post works against giving them the power to exercise a meaningful choice. It is a discredited system which limits the options available in an election and which effectively gives the two major parties the power to manage the choices available to the electorate.
It is now vital political parties recognise the scale of the change needed because if we don’t there could be long-term damage on our democracy.
If we are serious about changing politics, we must recognize the need for a more pluralistic electoral system which gives voters control over the kind of politics they judge best for the country.
No longer can excuses be made to avoid change. Indeed, every new legislature created by Parliament uses some form of PR. In Scotland, for example the Additional Member System is used to elect MSPs, Single Transferable Vote is used for council elections, as it is in Northern Ireland for the Assembly. Indeed, even the Deputy Speakers of the House of Commons are elected by Single Transferable Vote.
If we are serious about changing our politics, then we must recognize the need for a more pluralistic electoral system which gives voters control over the kind of politics they want in Westminster. It should not be in the gift of outdated, tired political parties to make that choice for them.
Angela Smith is the Independent Group MP for Penistone and Stocksbridge.