The British political system has undergone monumental upheaval in the past two and a half years. These are unchartered waters. Our government are a shambles and the media, since they pray for the worst, are having a field day. Our hands are tied, as we wait for our friends across the channel to make the next move.
This governmental discord splashed across the newsstands is partly due to the nature of British democracy. Our electoral system is a quandary. Dating back to the 13th century, this country has one of the world’s oldest democratic systems. A structure which, to this day, has stood through countless crises, dilemmas and shake-ups. Our ‘hallowed’ democracy, well-oiled over generations of electorates, should be producing governments representative of the general political consensus in this country.
Currently, we subscribe to a first-past-the-post electoral system. In the simplest terms, voters opt for a candidate from the selection standing in their local constituency. From there, the party which gains the majority, however big or small, of seats in the house of commons is invited to form a government.
The curtain is falling on the age of two-party politics, following the defection of nine Labour and three Conservative MPs to the newly formed Independent Group in the past couple of weeks. Now, more than ever, we must concentrate upon ideas. But our existing electoral system does not afford us the chance to do so. Instead, it asks that we put all our eggs in one basket. By signing up to vote for a single party, we subscribe to everything that party stands for. There is no room for a politics without faction, our political system finds itself divided into two camps, red or blue. The rise and fall of UKIP beautifully illustrate that the House of Commons does not welcome small parties. As it stands, our current method of choosing a government crushes the minority.
The notorious election of 2015 is a prime example of the inadequacy of our current electoral predicament. David Cameron’s Conservative party romped to victory, taking 331 seats in the Commons. Ed Miliband resigned after a devastating loss for Labour and the days of ‘Cleggmania’ were brought to a crushing end with the Liberal Democrats walking away with a mere eight seats, a far cry from their previous 57.
Yet, on 8 May 2015, the British public woke up to one of the most uneven election results in British political history. Despite managing to secure a majority, the share of the vote allocated to Cameron and the Conservative party amounted to a mere 36.9 per cent, with the party only gaining the support of 24 per cent of the electorate itself. Nicola Sturgeon’s Scottish Nationalist Party (SNP) obtained a resounding 56 seats, a landslide for a smaller party, whilst Nick Clegg’s once potent Lib Dems fell from grace. Nonetheless, the latter gained almost a million more votes than the former. UKIP, led by the infamous Nigel Farage, obtained a single seat. The number of votes they acquired was almost the total of Lib Dem and SNP votes combined.
The methodology of our electoral system meant that the government which this country supposedly democratically ‘chose’ represented less than a quarter of its people. 63.1 per cent of those who voted, did not wish to obtain a Conservative government, yet a Conservative government is what they got.
This is the reality of first-past-the-post. The people’s choice is never truly represented or properly valued. It is only the voice of an, often minor, majority, usually in terms of a binary choice – red or blue – that is afforded proper recognition.
Democracy is based upon the idea of representation. Still, the consensus among the British people remains deprived of this fundamental democratic right. This system, although longstanding, is failing this country’s electorate. The political turmoil of the past two and a half years only serves to reinforce this.
According to the Electoral Reform Society, a number of former British colonies such as Australia, Cyprus and South Africa have scrapped their first-past-the-post systems in the years since decolonisation, opting towards systems proportional representation. Let us not forget that all three of the devolved governments in this country (Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland) have not subscribed to first-past-the-post, instead opting for Proportional Representation. Why does Westminster remain grounded in its dysfunction despite this blinding disparity?
Our existing procedure eclipses the potential for nuance in government, moulding the two dominating parties into vastly broad churches. The divisions which we are currently witnessing at the heart of government are testament to the inefficiency of our democratic method. This inefficiency has fed its way into the heart of British politics. Now more than ever we require unity, a concept which first-past-the-post has failed to deliver.