We need a new electoral system that means that every vote in Wales matters

Ceredigion’s new MP, Ben Lake

Ben Lake

I won my seat at the 2017 General Election with 29% of the vote. Under a more representative electoral system I would not, in all likelihood, have a seat in the House of Commons today.

However, creating a fairer and more representative Parliament, where every vote matters, is more important than any single MP, myself included.

Creating a Parliament which truly represents its people does not just mean reform of the voting system – it also means ensuring those who have a stake in our society have the opportunity to shape it.

The right to vote from the age of 16 is necessary, progressive and, quite simply, the right thing to do.

Just this week the issue has been debated in Parliament, and Friday a Private Member’s Bill seeking to give 16-year-olds the vote will be debated in the Commons.

Voting reform is coming and it is knocking louder than ever on the historic gates of a dated Westminster system.

The UK is the only country in Europe still clinging on to the First Past the Post (FPTP) electoral system, and yet the idea that this is a bastion of democracy continues.

Under the current system, a smaller party could win a significant number of votes nationally, but still end up with no MPs if they fail to have a high enough concentration of votes in any one constituency.

This system inherently serves a two-party political system.

Every vote matters

Thanks to Plaid Cymru and the SNP, there are six competitive political parties in Wales and Scotland.

England’s not quite as lucky, but there are generally five parties competing for constituencies across the border.

The current system offers no space to represent such political diversity. This system, and the injustice that a vote for a smaller party is perceived to be a “wasted vote”, is undoubtedly one of the root causes of political apathy and distrust.

Although far from a perfect system, Welsh Assembly elections mean we have a taste of a more proportional system in Wales.

In effect, it is a mixed system – the first vote following the FPTP system to elect constituency Assembly Members, the second to elect a list-based member, on a regional basis.

The logic behind this system was to ensure that an element of familiarity remained, and local links were retained with constituency Members; whilst seats allocated by the list system would ensure the overall number of seats for each political party better reflects the aggregate number of votes they receive.

The Wales Act 2017 empowers the National Assembly to devise its own electoral system.

This is a real opportunity for Wales to re-engage and inspire the electorate, and I am excited to see how our Welsh Parliament can lead the way in UK politics by ensuring that every vote matters.

The fact that Westminster parties refuse to accept that the current system is not fit for purpose is just another example of the establishment protecting itself. In 2015 David Cameron’s Tories won the General Election with 36.8% of all votes cast.

Over 75% of the eligible UK electorate did not vote for the Tories and austerity, yet we still ended up with them.

Diversity

Labour are equally guilty. It is nothing short of hypocrisy to profess to represent “the many, not the few”, and then stand in the way of a reform that would mean it was the many, not the few who decides the political make up of Westminster.

It is tragically laughable that a state which constantly proclaims to be the home of the mother of democratic parliaments can watch 22 million votes be ‘wasted’, as was the case at the 2017 General Election.

A proportional system would shake up Parliament and re-energise the electorate. This is desperately needed as our current system is becoming increasingly discredited and unrepresentative of the diversity of views in our society.

We need to create a democracy that works for everyone, and electoral reform will be a crucial part of our efforts to do so. Another reform that will contribute to this change is lowering the voting age to include 16 and 17-year-olds.

Under an SNP Government in 2015, Scotland reduced the voting age to 16. It was a reform that enjoyed cross-party support, including the Scottish Conservatives.

16 and 17-year-olds can vote in Scottish Parliament and local elections, but have no voice in Westminster elections and had no vote in the EU Referendum.

Poorer democracy

As the youngest MP in Wales and one of 13 MPs under the age of 30 in the current Parliament, I unequivocally refute the claim that young people have no understanding of the political system or interest in voting.

The argument that young people are not politically engaged is a total fallacy. The idea that you could select an age group in society, arbitrarily claim that they are not politically engaged and should, therefore, have no say is beyond unfair.

From the age of 16 young people are, to all intents and purposes, regarded as adults by society – they can marry, join the Army, they are expected to pay tax, National Insurance, and contribute to society like every other adult.

And yet, they have no choice as to which political party shall govern the society in which they live and contribute to.

It is essential that young people have a say in the direction we are heading. The voting age should be lowered and civic education should be introduced in schools to ensure young people have the means to make an informed decision.

Young people have just as much – if not more – of a stake in the country’s future as older generations.

It is important for any parliament to be as diverse as the society it serves. Our democracy is certainly poorer for ignoring their voices.

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