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Opinion

For a fairer future we must end first past the post in Westminster

13 Apr 2024 5 minute read
The Houses of Parliament – Image: Anthony Devlin

Catherine FookesLabour Parliamentary candidate for Monmouthshire

At the next general election, I will be asking the people of Monmouthshire to put their trust in me as their first Labour MP in almost 20 years.

Between now and then I will be working hard to restore their faith in politics – to show it can be a force for good and change their lives for the better. After almost a decade and a half of Conservative government, people have good reason to be sceptical of politicians.

Austerity, sewage in our rivers and a cost of living crisis – to name just a few – are the result of a politics that has let us all down and made us all worse off.

In Wales we have a proportionally elected Senedd where Labour has governed effectively, both alone and in coalitions, since 1997.

Despite disastrous decisions made in a Conservative-led Westminster to the NHS, economy and the environment, our representative, Labour-led parliament has sought to limit the damage done to Wales.

Wales, and Monmouthshire, are ready for change. But we know we have a mountain to climb. After all the damage the Conservatives have done to the UK, any Labour government will have finite resources, and must be careful to address the most pressing challenges in front of us whilst being more responsible with the public purse than our predecessors.

At the same time, foodbank use is soaring, energy prices are soaring and our public services are in crisis. Britain is desperate for a fairer society and a fairer politics.

To address both the crises we face and their causes, it is clear Labour will need to make government work again for working people.

First Past the Post

That should include addressing the First Past the Post (FPTP) voting system which time and again has given the Conservatives total power at Westminster despite receiving only a minority of the votes.

At every general election, millions of votes have no impact on the seats in parliament. That is fundamentally unfair and undemocratic, and these flaws in FPTP are contributing to the distrust and alienation we see in politics.

The Conservatives, more than any other party, benefit disproportionately from FPTP. It is unfair and they know it is unfair. It is why we have had Conservative governments for two-thirds of the past 20 general elections, despite most people voting for parties to the left of the Tories in 19 of those
elections.

It is why the Conservatives have rolled out FPTP for Police and Crime Commissioner and Mayoral elections, a change nobody was asking for. And it is why they have introduced Voter ID, something they openly admit was a bodged attempt at voter suppression.

These are the actions of a party that would rather entrench its own power than earn it through fair elections. It is also why only a Labour government will ever be able to restore trust in our politics – by mending our flawed voting
system.

Fairer

This could not come at a more pressing moment. Trust in UK central government is amongst the lowest in the 38 OECD countries, and lowest by far of the G7. Meanwhile the only countries with high and rising public satisfaction with democracy all use Proportional Representation (PR).

Not only do people tend to be happier with politicians under a fairer voting system they are also much more likely to turn out to vote, because they know their vote will count.

Under PR, government is significantly more stable, with Cabinet ministers on average serving over a year longer in their posts and governments on average lasting almost four years longer under PR. This would be a welcome change
from the chaos a Conservative-run Westminster has brought for two-thirds of the past 100 years.

So while PR would not immediately solve all of the crises the UK currently faces, it would provide the solid bedrock for a decade of progressive renewal.

Across the UK there is a hunger for the better politics this would deliver. Public support for a fair proportional voting system for Westminster far outstrips that for our current outdated system.

That includes swing voters, who regularly place PR for the House of Commons as their top priority for democratic reforms. It has been almost 100 years since the last major reform to Westminster, when women in the UK finally gained equal voting rights to men. And yet we still do not have equal representation in a 50:50 parliament.

Women’s rights

Having worked on women’s equality issues for over half a decade in Wales, I am a passionate advocate for women’s rights and women’s representation in politics.

Across the world, PR parliaments routinely deliver better representation of, by and for women.

Meanwhile just two countries in Europe still use FPTP – the UK and Belarus.
During an election year in which the Conservatives seem dead-set on a campaign of divisive wedge issues, Labour must rekindle trust and hope for a better, kinder politics.

In Monmouthshire, almost 8,000 votes went to minor parties at the last election. At the next election they will have a choice between change with Labour, or more of the same slow decline.

We can mend a broken Westminster and its broken, unfair voting system. In 1997 Labour won in Monmouth. We can win again, and if I am fortunate enough to serve as Monmouthshire’s MP I will work tirelessly for a fairer Westminster.


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Richard 1
Richard 1
1 month ago

Yes, but what does your leader think?

Ernie The Smallholder
Ernie The Smallholder
1 month ago

‘Just two countries in Europe still use FPTP – the UK and Belarus’.

Yes, both have centralised governments.
One is a dictatorship and the other is slowly becoming a dictatorship.

If you believe in Proportional Representation then why not go for the system recommended by the Electoral Reform Society: The Single Transferable Vote (STV) ?
The Single Transferable Vote is the system the main opposition party in Wales: Plaid Cymru proposed.

The Liberal Democrats and the Green Party also supports STV.

So, Why have we been given the Party List system in the recent Senedd Reform Bill ?

Annibendof
Annibendof
1 month ago

Because Labour would not support the bill with STV in it. They would only support closed lists. Plaid should have pulled out at this point IMHO but clearly felt it was better to get the rest of the bill through rather than nothing at all.

Blegywryd
Blegywryd
1 month ago

FPTP also rules the roost in the USA, with the inevitable consequence of polarisation, an increasingly confrontational political climate and the drowning out of voices putting forward alternative visions. All these trends are already emerging this side of the Atlantic. But what incentive can there ever be for a party handed a huge majority by FPTP to change that system?

Annibendod
Annibendod
1 month ago

You’ll need to go a lot further than that. The UK is not fit for purpose. No amount of tinkering will fix it. It needs replacing. See Plaid Cymru for the answer.

Rob
Rob
1 month ago

I appreciate your sentiments Catherine, FPTP is such an outdated electoral system unfit for the 21st century. However is it really in the interests of your party to get rid of FPTP, and will Starmer commit to electoral reform?

Gareth
Gareth
1 month ago

If you can see and recognise the FPTP is outdated and the damage it has done our country, how much of a step will it be for you to acknowledge that the same can be said for the UK, and give up this ” unionist” stance, and stand for Cymru, and help deliver an independent state free of this outdated system,that would allow us to prosper.

Rhddwen y Sais
Rhddwen y Sais
1 month ago

First past the post would be a lot fairer if 16 year olds could vote.

Rob
Rob
1 month ago
Reply to  Rhddwen y Sais

How does lowering the voting age improve the current electoral system?

Doctor Trousers
Doctor Trousers
1 month ago
Reply to  Rob

in a country with an ageing population, it would at least partially balance out the disproportionate influence of the over 50s, who are the demographic most likely to vote. In Scotland, even with the voting age lowered to 16, the over 50s tilt the balance of independence polls towards no, even with overwhelming support for independence in all the younger demographics. 16 year olds also old enough to leave school, old enough to join the army, old enough to get a job, legally old enough to be considered an adult in many important ways, so it’s fair enough that they… Read more »

David
David
1 month ago

Why is it that those who submit articles to Nation Cymru do NOT come back and answer contributors comments?

Doctor Trousers
Doctor Trousers
1 month ago

aye well you had 13 years to bring it in last time, and it’s not like we didn’t know all this then.

Mawkernewek
1 month ago

You say you are in favour of PR but you also end by disparaging voters who voted for what you refer dismissivly as minor parties

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