It is time to effect a political revolution in Britain.
Theresa May has just called a snap General Election but in truth, a force has already won it. This undercurrent within Western politics has been ignored for far too long, and yet, threatens to sweep away modern society. It is not the rising neo-fascism the media obsesses itself with, but is an issue that is frequently ignored by the mainstream political establishment – parties of all colours and media of all types. Invisible and yet impossible not to notice, political apathy infects whole streets, whole towns and whole cities.
34% of registered voters did not vote at the 2015 general election. That’s millions of people who did not feel motivated enough, for a variety of reasons, to go to a polling station. Seemingly bad in itself, this is nothing compared to the true reality. The Conservative party gained about 37% of all votes cast and yet formed a majority in Parliament. However, this already minority vote share falls further as a proportion of all registered voters and further still when we include the about 6 million eligible voters who failed to register. While the Conservatives – as did all parties for that matter – vote share plummet, in reality, the number who didn’t vote skyrocketed.
To put it into perspective, if the “I don’t vote” party existed it would have won the 2015 general election, under first-past-the-post (FPTP), by a landslide. It would have gained 346 seats, came second in another 283 seats and third with 21 seats. In other words, not voting in every 650 of the UK’s constituencies was the third, second or first ‘party’.
Such political apathy is an affront to democracy itself. It allows other people to make decisions on others’ behalf, without their consent and without being consulted when democracy’s greatest value and the reason so many have fought for the right to have it, is that it allows the people of a nation to bring destiny into their own hands. To decide in their present and their future instead of being at the whim of a single individual or group.
Of course, this is not to say we should spend every waking minute of every single day discussing politics, reading politics or taking part in politics. That’s ludicrous and the reason pure direct democracies do not work in the 21st century. We want to live our lives free of the burden of everyday politics, but surely we want to do so within a system that we know we all have a part in running. It is an undemocratic democracy in which so many do not vote and so many do not care.
Suppressive and Oppressive
The root cause of this apathy is the system we use to elect our representatives – first-past-the-post. FPTP means that within a constituency the candidate with the largest vote share becomes the MP. However this leaves the views of the majority within the constituency completely unrepresented: a candidate can get elected with very little of the local vote and likewise, so can a government.
As aforementioned, the Conservative party won a majority of 11 at the 2015 election, with less than 24% of the vote. If you took a group of 10 people, only around two would have voted Conservative and yet it is their views and values which get to run the country. FPTP creates safe seats which contribute massively to the political apathy problem.
It is seemingly inevitable that some seats will always vote a certain way such as Liverpool Walton which Labour held for the majority of the 20th century and in which they gained 82% of cast votes in 2015. But that same constituency had just 55% turnout- this is because safe seats suck the motivation to vote out of anyone other than Labour voters. What’s the point of a Conservative or UKIPer going to vote in a seat that always goes Labour? Likewise, what’s the point of voting for a Green in a safe Tory seat where they know they’ll just get 5% or so and have no hope of winning?
The 20 seats with the lowest turnouts in the 2015 election were all held by Labour and were all safe seats. The lowest was the now-controversial seat of Stoke-on-Trent Central where most people didn’t vote and Tristam Hunt was elected with just 19% of his constituents backing him, yet he supposedly had a mandate to represent his constituency’s views. The media portrayed the Stoke by-election as a mighty battle between UKIP and Labour; in truth, the battle was won by the “I don’t vote” party.
Even those that vote, do not see their efforts rewarded. As the Electoral Reform Society calculated, 74% of votes cast in 2015 were wasted as in being cast either for losing candidates or for winning candidates above and beyond the amount needed to win in a particular constituency; they had no impact on the final result of the General Election.
Not only does FPTP suppress voter turnout, and thereby democracy, but it breeds two party politics by conjuring up the illusion that a vote for anything other than the two main parties is a wasted one.
If you live in a seat were the vote is likely to be close between Labour and the Conservatives but you feel more aligned to UKIP, there is a risk that your vote for UKIP would split the Conservative’s support and grant the seat to Labour and so to keep the other out, you are likely to vote Tory despite this not fully representing your view.
Through encouraging such tactical voting, FPTP creates a two-party system in which people’s real political views are suppressed. Not only does FPTP allow parties to gain a majority with a minority, but it oppresses the real voice of the people by giving them only two choices.
This system also puts huge power in the hand of party leaders and the political establishment. Safe seats mean that MPs for those areas do not need to work hard to be re-elected and are effectively unaccountable while parties, in general, get to dictate policy with no regard to the majority, simply appealing to the most politically active minority.
The result of this is suppressed voter turnout, a two-party system that actively oppresses the real political views of the country and things being run behind closed doors by party leaders and the political establishment. Now ask yourself: does that sound democratic? Does that system represent people actively taking control of their own lives and futures?
A political revolution, of sorts, is sorely needed to reinvigorate our tired, outdated democracy. The system of FPTP is the epitome of our undemocratic democracy and so the key to unlocking a new golden age of democracy throughout the West, must be replacing it with Proportional Representation (PR). There are many forms of PR, each with strengths and weaknesses in different areas and a debate about which one is best would be worthy of a whole other article.
PR is used in most European democracies: Germany, Ireland, Iceland etc. In al of these countries, PR systems generally work in such a way of if a party gets 20% of the votes, they get 20% of the seats. In other words, PR would mean that the views of the people are accurately, fairly and proportionately represented. It would also bring to an end tactical voting – that a Green vote in a Conservative safe seat would be worth as much as any other, while someone in a swing seat wouldn’t have to vote tactically against the party they don’t want but can vote for the party they really do believe in.
PR would bring two-party dominance, and therefore dictatorship by their respective establishments, to an end. Smaller parties would gain a bigger voice and impact upon policy, rejuvenating politics with new ideas and energy.
A more diverse parliament would likely lead to a situation in which no party has a majority of seats and therefore coalitions and compromises would be the norm. Far from being a negative, this would be a massive benefit to British politics: it would end the brutal partisan rhetoric which only breeds a harsh political environment, instead encouraging legislatures to work together. This creates a better policy where more views can have a say as well as encouraging policy with the long-term in mind rather than short-term vote winners.
Countries that use PR see their parliament become more diverse not just in terms of parties. On the topic of female representation, for example, the share of women elected under systems of PR is around 8% higher. Similarly, representation of minorities and other groups also increase as the white, middle-aged incumbents who dominate the safe seats for both parties under FPTP will become truly accountable.
One of PR’s strongest strengths is its incredible ability to combat voter apathy on a massive level. People don’t vote because they feel their vote doesn’t count and doesn’t amount to anything which, under FPTP, the sad truth is this is often the case.
But PR would dramatically change things. The policy would be more effective and of higher quality, as previously described, making voting more important. Not only that, but it would end the idea of a safe seat. People who don’t vote because they know their party will never win in their constituency would have a reason to vote, because their vote would count and actually make a difference.
As more people’s votes matter, so too would general political participation. PR would encourage people to take control of their own destiny, bringing in new generations of better-informed citizens who more actively take an interest in the future of their country and the world.
An Undemocratic Democracy
One thing is clear: the current system does not work. At its core, democracy is about the people taking charge, our opinions and values coming together over debate and participation to lead us all forward. FPTP, however, fuels an undemocratic democracy where huge levels of institutionalised apathy and archaic, sluggish two-party politics is considered normal. We cannot allow it to continue to degrade our democracy, disenfranchising millions and subduing the beliefs of more.
But there is another way. We can create a spirit of greater participation and of coming together. We can embrace new ideas rather than oppress them, giving them a proper platform for debate and allowing them, with our consent, to rejuvenate our politics for the 21st century. An alternative to our system in which millions are disenfranchised and feel like politics isn’t meant for them is on the horizon. We can forge a future where politics is for everyone and a tool for empowering us to have a say in our own future.
It is time for a change in British democracy, time to restore it to its lost progressive nature and make it what we know it can be.
To do so, would be truly revolutionary.