Much of the rhetoric surrounding the EU referendum focused upon the idea of ‘taking back control’. According to some, this country exhibited its eagerness to regain its autonomy and exercise its democratic freedom in its decision to leave. Yet, as Caroline Lucas eloquently put it in her 2016 Commons speech, ‘all those who were promised that they will be given back control, simply will not have it without meaningful electoral reform.’ Without an electoral system that places power in the hands of its electorate, taking back control is off the agenda. A long-awaited shift in method is needed, from ineffectual first past-the-post to consummate Proportional Representation.
Proportional Representation (PR) is a system in which the number of votes apportioned to a specific party, aligns with the number of seats allocated to such party in parliament. The share of the vote obtained by a specific party would directly correlate with the number of MPs gained in the election. For example, a party that gains one third of the vote gains one third of the seats.
Under PR, every single vote counts. Rather than relying upon the safe seats and party machines, the country’s potential governing bodies will have to fight for the right to govern. PR will allow for a more diverse, more representative parliament, one which reflects the consensus among the British people rather than that of a small minority of voters. With the political turbulence that has characterised much of British politics over the past two and a half years, slowly eating away at government, our electoral system must be one that puts ideas, policies and people at the heart of its method.
PR will allow voters to become more connected with their vote. With many of those eligible to vote throwing away their opportunity to engage due to a sense of disenfranchisement, establishing an electoral system which really values its electorate is a steadfast remedy. Instead of parties remaining firmly grounded in the support of their loyal grassroots members, PR will force a more holistic approach to campaigning and elections. With a more proportional method of election, the factional politics engulfing the house of commons will be forced out, with Parties no longer reticent in the support of a select few but rather reliant upon the support of the country as a whole. It goes without saying that a government which truly represents its people will be more successful, more stable and more evocative.
The system in place to elect representatives to both the Scottish Parliament in Holyrood and the Northern Irish Assembly in Stormont, Single Transferable Vote, is the system Westminster should adopt. Under such a system, voters rank a list of candidates, depending on their preference. Those counting the votes provide a quota based upon the number cast by those who voted and the positions which require filling. If one’s primary candidate does not achieve enough votes to fulfil the quota, the vote goes to the secondary candidate and so on. In the case of none of the candidates attaining the amount of votes needed to meet the quota, the candidate with the least votes is removed and each voter’s alternative selections allocated said votes.
Unlike first-past-the-post, a Single Transferable Vote affords the public the power and authority it deserves. Still, the government refuses to concede its archaic method. Arguments against PR suggest that the public will find it too complex for it to be ultimately successful. Yet, evidence from elections in Northern Ireland and Scotland have proved that their electorates are utilising their votes in sophisticated and tactical ways, maximising PR’s potential to bring real and lasting change.
Theresa May’s ailing body of divided MPs, unable to deliver anything close to a united front, could have been avoided under PR. The British electorate is diverse, dynamic and ready to engage. The politicians that claim it is not so only serve to advance their own agendas. Adopting PR will allow this country to take back it’s autonomy, to celebrate its diversity and to be the architect of its own future. Taking back control may be a loss after Brexit but control is inevitable if we pursue electoral reform.