A fairer voting system
How Proportional Representation can create a fairer and more cooperative political system
You can see this article on the Compass website here: https://www.compassonline.org.uk/pluralism-isnt-a-tactic-its-a-culture-shift/
Centre has done a fantastic job collecting articles on Proportional Representation (PR) from a whole host of voices and laying out the clear advantages of ditching our antiquated First-Past-the-Post voting system. These range from the basic questions of representation in a democracy, to the influence on environmental and educational policy.
Among the astounding figures that campaigners invoke when we talk about PR, my favourite is that the 70% of votes cast in the 2019 General Election received no political representation. It’s undeniable that FPTP distorts the share of seats, and generally favours the Conservatives. It is the glue that holds our rotten politics together, locking out millions of voters, whole areas of the country, and lets Labour underwhelm while other parties struggle to break through
However, currently the road to implementing PR for Westminster elections is blocked by our dysfunctional democratic system. The Conservatives are not going to scrap a system that benefits them, and Labour is guaranteed at least second place; turkeys don’t vote for Christmas. The push for PR is in the interest of people, and it’s being pushed into the political conversation by people without their hands on the levers of power.
What that cooperation looks like is up for discussion and deliberation. Compass has written many papers on what that arrangement might look like at election time, and in government. We can draw inspiration from around the world: from Biden’s pacts with Sanders in 2020, to New Zealand’s Jacinda Ardern lauding the benefits of multiple-party government; from Finland’s female-led coalition, to the SPD in Germany coming from behind to lead the first national three-party government. This is the age of alliances.
However, while we argue that cooperation is the only viable route to PR in the UK, this is so much more than a simple tactic; it’s a culture shift. Pluralism is not a play to game the system, a tactic to be packed up again once we secure PR. It is an ideological commitment. No one individual, issue, organisation, political party, can make a good society a reality by themselves; one where equality, sustainability, and democracy are not aspirational values but our lived reality. We have to work together to get there.
Proportional representation is the bedrock of a government that represents people, and it’s instrumental to delivering lasting equality and action on the climate emergency.
To build a political culture ready to collaborate and take action to address the crises we’re facing, politicians, organisers, and citizens need to demonstrate their commitment to working together across party lines. Pluralism isn’t only a by-product of PR, but our route there.
PR is also a game changer because it opens our political system up and gives everyone a voice. It also works to undermine some of the factionalism that runs right through Britain’s parties. Under FPTP the factions in parties fight amongst themselves, behind the closed doors of party structures. Most people never hear those disagreements, except when they are sensationalised and weaponised in the press. Under PR, there is space for different ideas, ideologies, and identities to have their own platform, and their own power.
A democracy where ideas and parties compete for voters, where candidates are accountable to their constituents, and where voters have the freedom to use their voice to build a parliament they believe in, is the necessary condition of change. Our politics isn’t broken, it’s just out of date. There’s hope and new ideas bursting to be heard, experimented with and realised. To set that energy free, and to harness it to build a good society, we need PR. And then the building work really starts.
About the author
Lena Swedlow is the Campaigns and Project Officer at Compass.