We need to ditch our rigged First Past the Post voting system

Counting votes for the Clwyd West constituency. Picture by Llywelyn2000.

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.

 

Prisoners

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.

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Perryn Edwards
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Perryn Edwards

All because the result was your undesired result. You cannot mourn the lack of democracy in FTP, whilst ignoring the majority vote for BREXIT. The election was as a result of Labour, and Plaid Cymru in Wales, failing to present a decent argument toward their election. I would have voted for Plaid in my constituency had there been any sort of representation, policy arguments etc. I fear Mark Tammi only survived in Alyn & Deeside because the Conservatives selected candidate from London to represent a Welsh constituency.

Ernie The Smallholder
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Ernie The Smallholder

Plaid Cymru would not had to stand down in an STV election since there would be no need to have a pre-election alliance. You would have had an alternative 2nd, 3rd ..etc vote until each of the candidates actually reached the quota for the seat.

Steve Duggan
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Steve Duggan

Errr How many people across the country voted for the Brexit party and did not get a single MP. This is not about Brexit it’s about proper representation. However, as you brought the subject up – most people in the GE voted for parties that did not want brexit – 51% to 47%. But all this is by the by when the majority in the referendum was only 3.8% – any other democratic country would have declared the result void from day one as it is not a clear consensus of what the population wants and would only cause division.… Read more »

Bryn Colion
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Bryn Colion

Perryn …. please this is deeper than Brexit …. this has been an issue for many decades.

I respected the Brexit result by the way

Mark Hathway
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Mark Hathway

The ftp system is flawed but remember that the country were offered an alternative in the he referendum of 2011. What we fundamentally struggle with in this country is presenting facts in a way that positively reinforces the arguments presented. To often are people scared into voting for the outcome of whichever debate is in current favour. Brexit had project fear as an example. It’s time that political institutions started trusting the electorate with truth and facts that truly represent what is going on and what will happen. The change to the voting system is desperately needed and the more… Read more »

Bryn Colion
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Bryn Colion

the alternative offered was a convoluted crap version forced on us by Cameron in the Tories.

We are talking about a real easy to understand “single transferable vote”

jr humphrys
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jr humphrys

England is the new UK!
There will never be an STV, because they don’t want one.
They have their assembly in Westminster.
Concentrate on Cymru, join Plaid!

Rhosddu
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Rhosddu

Yes, it’s down to Plaid, but they’ll have to pull their finger out, JR.

Jonathon Gammond
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Jonathon Gammond

We don’t need to reinvent the wheel – just copy the electoral system used in the Irish Republic for the Dail. It’s democratic, ensures fewer wasted votes, gives power to the individual voter and preserves the constituency link.

First Past the Post worked well in the 19th century, the age of Whigs and Tories, but the country has moved on since then and society is more diverse rather than divided into ‘them’ and ‘us’.

Huw Davies
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Huw Davies

I’m a tad cynical whether anybody cares, as ‘the people’ were given the opportunity to change the system in 2011 but voted for the status quo. The two main parties have no reason to change, especially the Tories, and the USA seems to manage with a, de facto, two party system. Like him or loath him, the best chance, right now, of getting some sort of proportional representation would be for Nigel Farage to make it his new project after Brexit! He knows how to mount a campaign and his base of Brexit supporters would be likely to agree with… Read more »

Huw Davies
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Huw Davies

Amazing but true ( if anything about Farage is true !). He certainly knows how to promote a subject in a way that chimes with the mass audience. Once in place however any new system would have to be adopted and protected by law as I suspect if ever Nige got a working majority in any parliament he would re-write rules to adopt a one party state.

KK
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KK

You are joking aren’t you? Nigel Farage has unleashed a chain of events that we have no idea as to what the consequences may be. I can’t quite put into context what it is I am expecting but when you have a compulsive liar and coward as PM who is aided and abetted by the media from being closely scrutinised, whose party now counts English nationalists like Tommy Robinson amongst its ranks and is already demanding that they should have a say in how Wales spends its own budget then I think there is something seriously amiss. The propaganda for… Read more »

Bev
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Bev

Sour grapes because the Plaid Cymru vote went down again

Rhosddu
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Rhosddu

People have been agitating for this long before this recent election.

Cerydd
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Cerydd

The sour grapes accusation (not sure who it’s aimed at) is divisive and lacks analysis. Certainly PC’s overall vote share has gone down but it looks to me as if this is because many people voted to avoid the disaster of brexit. In the four existing Plaid seats this meant voting PC. In Arfon, Dwyfor Meirionnydd, and Ceredigion the vote share increased (+4.3%, +3.2%, +8.7% respectively); only in Carmarthen E & Dinefwr did it go down, and not by much (-0.4%). Play nicely, Bev.

Rhosddu
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Rhosddu

She (or rather, he) is a troll looking for a reaction.

You’re right about this election being about Brexit, and this made it exceptional and unlikely to be repeated. The issue now is how much damage will the British Government do to Wales between now and next time, and can Wales regroup sufficiently to send out a message in 2021?

Steve Duggan
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Steve Duggan

So long as we have a Conservative or Labour government – we will never get proportional representation. The only way we will be able to change the way we vote is if we gain independence and set up our own system. We are lucky in Wales as we have this option, those in England face -in reality a one party state , i.e the Tory party, for a long long time.

Philip Hughes
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Philip Hughes

We had a referendum on this. Part of the Tory pact with the Liberals. The Tories and the media effectively torpedoed it. The Turkey’s voted against Christmas. On Anglesey the Tories got 35% of the vote, and Labour 30% and Plaid 28%. Younger commentators think this is a new issue. It isn’t, it’s not just about this election

John Ellis
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John Ellis

I don’t see any prospect of the FPTP system at Westminster elections being changed as long as the majority of voters in the majority of constituencies continue to vote either Conservative or Labour, and when they ‘switch’ confine their switchings to opting between one and the other. Clearly it’s in the interest of neither party to change a system which guarantees them a majority more often than not, even when their actual vote share is rather less impressive!