The Institute for Public Policy Research, one of the most influencial policy think-tanks in the UK, has issued a damning verdict in a report about our current voting system (First Past The Post) after analysing data from the general election of May 2010. As reported widely by the BBC News website, The Press Association, & newspapers such as the Daily Mail, Daily Telegraph & The Guardian (all with their own usual political leanings mixed in of course!), the IPPR state that our current voting system is “broken” & likely to continue producing increasingly undemocratic & unrepresentative election results in the future.
As pointed out elsewhere (such as the Jenkins Report on electoral reform in 1998 & studies by the Electoral Reform Society for example), the IPPR have come to the conclusion that due to long-term changes in voting patterns the failing FPTP system can no longer be relied upon as a fair & truly representative way to elect our MPs. The report also states that FPTP will continue to fail to deliver the two things that many No2AV supporters & politicians cite as FPTP’s major strength- a clear-cut result with a stable single-party government.
Here’s what the Director of IPPR, Nick Pearce, had to say:
‘Britain now has a broken voting system that needs to be fixed. Unless First Past the Post is reformed the UK will be left with a voting system that neither delivers fair representation nor single-party government.
‘The last election result was not an aberration but a reflection of long-term changes in voting patterns across the UK which significantly increase the likelihood of more hung parliaments in the future. Britain has evolved into a multi-party system, but it still has an electoral system designed for only two parties.’
The IPPR article continues, & makes mention of the Alternative Vote:
“The current system is not cut out to deal with coalition governments because voters get just one preference at the ballot box. Under preferential voting systems, such as AV, coalition parties can each ask the other’s voters to give them their second preferences, allowing voters to reward good governments or vote to break up bad coalitions.”
It’s worth pointing out that coalitions & hung parliaments are no more likely under AV than they are under FPTP, especially when it’s now clear that we live in a multi-party system where nearly 35% of voters opted for parties other than Labour or Conservatives in the 2010 election.
Here’s some more interesting findings from the report:
- The British Election Survey asked respondents whether the political parties had contacted them during the 2010 campaign. They found a 16 per cent gap between voters living in marginals and those living in safe seats. Just under half of voters (46 per cent) living in safe seats were ignored by parties. Looking at ‘super safe’ seats, the figure rose to 57 per cent. In marginals and super-marginals, the voter-contact rate was just under 70 per cent.
- Voters living in marginal seats (32 per cent) believe that their vote makes more of a difference than voters who live in safe seats (21 per cent). More than 50 per cent of voters in safe seats believe that their vote won’t make a difference to the election outcome.
- IPPR analysis show that voter turnout level decreases as the winner’s majority becomes larger, suggesting that people are less likely to participate in elections where their vote has less chance of making a difference. Since 1945, one-third of seats have consistently been held by the same party, a figure which rises to half of all seats over the period since 1970.
- At the 2010 General Election, UKIP got 900,000 votes, the largest total ever polled by a minority party, but because its vote was geographically spread across the country it failed to win a single seat.
- Support for third parties also means that an increasing number of MPs will be elected on less than 50 per cent of the vote in their constituencies. In the 1950s, 86 per cent of MPs received over 50 per cent of the local vote; in 2010, just 33 per cent did.
- Under First Past the Post, election results are effectively decided by voters who live in marginal seats. At the 2010 election, 31 per cent (around 9 million) voters lived in all-important marginals, leaving 69 per cent of the electorate voting in seats which had little chance of altering the overall result. The current voting system generates millions of ‘wasted votes’: in 2010, IPPR calculates 21 million votes were wasted, 71 per cent of all votes cast.
- Since 1945, only three new democracies have introduced First Past the Post based on the British model – Albania, Macedonia and Ukraine – and even these countries subsequently decided to switch to a different system.
With findings & facts such as those mentioned above, it’s no wonder the sole thrust of the No2AV campaign so far in the media has been slurs, smears & skewed attacks on AV, those who support such a reform & the need for a referendum. Maybe they realise deep down that there is no longer much of a rational defence for FPTP.
The referendum in May isn’t just about putting AV on trial; the current system of FPTP is also on trial to see if it’s still fit for purpose, & as the IPPR & others have found, FPTP is a broken system that is increasingly letting voters down & the evidence against it is truly compelling.
You can read more about the report in this IPPR article