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Articles > Politics May, 13, 2015

Epic fails of The UK’s voting system

Rachael Stanton
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The Conservatives won 331 seats, giving them a majority much to everyone’s surprise, including themselves. In fact, this general election brought many surprises other than a Conservative government. Forecasters and opinion polls failed to predict the results which we saw unfold on Friday. Surprisingly, Conservatives excelled at the polls much higher than anyone had predicted, gaining an additional 24 seats from last election. Lib Dems and Labour both suffered heavily, with losses much higher than expected, particularly in the case of the Lib Dems (losing 49 seats out of 57).

SNP turned Scotland yellow, gaining 56 seats (up 50 from the last election). UKIP has one MP, with Nigel Farage coming third in the seat of Thanet South. These results led to the morning news consisting of the resignation of Labour leader Ed Milliband, Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg, and UKIP leader Nigel Farage. Whilst Conservatives clearly achieved a majority with almost a 100 seats more than Labour, the results should be looked at from a different perspective. Of the people that did vote, 36.9% voted Conservative (lets round to 37% for arguments sake) – which means 63% of the electorate DIDN’T vote for the Conservatives who will now govern the country for the next 5 years. This isn’t the only way in which our voting system has failed to achieve proper representation. To put it in perspective:

  • Lib Dems – 2,415,888 votes – 8 seats
  • SNP – 1,454,436 votes – 56 seats
  • Greens – 1,157,613 votes – 1 Seat

I suppose it’s worth noting UKIP also suffer the same disadvantage, though I won’t pretend to be upset about their lack of seats. Despite gaining 3,881, 129 votes – making it the third most voted for party, they only got one seat (see results on BBC here). This isn’t a phenomenon and I’m also not highlighting it out of bitterness or disappointment at the results, it simply illustrates the failure of the first past the post voting system. How can it be democratic that a party wins (and by such a large majority) when only 37% of the electorate voted for them, whilst 63% indicated their preference for a different party? How can it be democratic that third parties are so heavily discriminated against, or that your vote is likely not to count in almost HALF of the seats in the UK?

Yes, we had the opportunity to have another method of electing MP’s with the AV referendum of 2011 but this was hardly sufficient. A badly run, unequally funded campaign described by Iain McLean as a “bad – tempered and ill -informed public debate” simply did not do the issue justice. People did not understand what they were voting for, its importance or the potential effects as the parties relied on rhetoric. The problem can not simply be reduced down to a yes or no question offered to the public without adequate information, effective campaigning and the alternative choices which extend beyond the AV system.

There are a range of proportional representation voting systems, as well as hybrid methods. Though I don’t believe we should speculate on a particular election result under a PR system as the way people vote is affected by the system, it can certainly be said that results would be more representative and proportionate as the name suggests. The two main parties have so far at least been unwilling to properly address this issue, though this is hardly surprising as it would make their majority governments less likely and less frequent.

Until this happens, we are unlikely to see the election results that we as a population deserve.

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