We need to ditch our rigged First Past the Post voting system
Gareth Ceidiog Hughes
The way we choose our politicians is rigged. Wales is not a country where you get what you vote for.
This is not just because we are always stuck with the government that the next door neighbours vote for, by the way. If you took Wales’ 40 seats out of the equation, it would not have made any difference to the result announced on Friday.
But even if you set that aside, there is still another huge problem that needs to be addressed urgently.
The Electoral reform Society pointed out that only 52% of the people of Wales actually got the MP they voted for in the last general election; and we’re told we live in a democracy apparently. There is a certain dark poetic absurdity to this figure.
It means that a whopping 806,116 votes in Wales counted for absolutely nothing in the latest Westminster election. This is a democratic outrage.
Other people may think that I’m way off beam here, but I thought the whole point of a democracy was that the people were meant to get the representatives they voted for. Apparently not. Silly me.
The issue is the First Past the Post electorate system, under which more than half the population can effectively be ignored by those in power.
There are people in this country whose votes has never counted because they live in a safe seat of a party other than the one they support. If your vote doesn’t count, do you really live in a democracy?
This statistic is a damning indictment of our electoral system. Under First Past the Post the candidate with the most votes in the constituency wins. Sounds fair enough you might think. Intuitive. Logical. Well you’d be wrong. It’s a terrible way to choose our elected representatives.
A party can win millions of votes in a general election in the UK and still end up without a solitary MP. The voices of the people who lent that party their votes are silenced. This is not fair. The voices of people who vote for smaller parties matters too, and they deserve to be heard.
The current system forces people to vote for parties and candidates they dislike, in order to keep out ones they hate.
It creates an electoral version of the prisoner’s dilemma. In the prisoner’s dilemma, two gangsters are arrested on suspicion of a crime. They are held separately and unable to communicate with each other. There is not enough evidence to convict either of them. But they are told that if they confess and snitch on their mate, they will only get two years’ inside. If they do not and their mate snitches on them, they will be facing nine years hard time. The most rational thing to do in this situation is to admit to the crime and snitch. It is to give up on a good result and to go for a bad one because you fear something much worse.
Our current electoral system forces voters to make similar unpalatable choices. It pushes the electoral to vote tactically, to vote for a party or a candidate they dislike out of fear of one that they hate.
People should be able to vote for the party that best reflects their values without this threat hanging over them, and their vote should count if they choose to do so.
What we have now is winner takes all politics. I want to live in a country where everybody gets a share of the pie.
Winner takes all politics is great if you happen to be on the winning team. It sucks big time if you’re on the losing side. Under First Past the Post, most people end up on the losing side most of the time. Politics shouldn’t be like winning the FA Cup on penalties. It is rather more serious than that. It is not a game.
But even if we look at this shoddy enterprise as a game, it’s still not very fair. Imagine a game of football in which for every goal your opponent scored you had to get two just to keep up. That’s a charitable interpretation of this crooked game. It is rigged. The deck is stacked. The table has been tilted. Yet we’re supposed to accept the results as if they were somehow fair. We’re told that we just have to suck it up.
Imagine if someone said we couldn’t go to Euro 2020 because to draw against Croatia we needed to score two goals to their one. You could take that analogy further and say that the goals a lot of people score just don’t count at all. You could stick the ball in the net 10 times and still end up with nothing on the scoreboard.
It’s quite possible that the UK has the most undemocratic and unrepresentative electoral system in Europe. On the continent, proportional representation is used. Under this system, people’s votes actually count. They also have far less inequality. I don’t think this is a coincidence.
There is far less incentive to make the country fair for everyone when you can safely ignore over half the electorate. The whole point of a democracy is that people’s votes determine who our elected representatives are. If we don’t have that, we don’t really have a functioning democracy at all.
In Wales, for elections to the Senedd, we have a halfway house. It is part First Past the Post with a slice of proportional representation. What we need is an all the way house. The reason so many countries have ditched First Past the Post is because it’s a terrible voting system. We are prisoners of this electoral system. It’s time to engineer a mass breakout. We won’t truly live in a democracy until we do.
We need to make our votes count.