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Britain must change


The British people have been failed. Failed by an electoral system that does not represent the majority of us, and is a lead weight holding back the movement for change in this nation. A system that has ushered in a government that is ruling us completely with the approval of just 36.9% of the electorate.

This election looked so promising. We witnessed the Green Surge, and the meteoric rise of the SNP. Even though they are widely disliked and hold views that are questionable at best, UKIP too signalled that people are tired of the main parties. For a few weeks, there was hope. It seemed like we could see a viable alternative, that the small parties whose membership and support was rocketing might have an influence in the next government.

How wrong we were.

The ‘first past the post’ system, that seems so logical at a cursory glance, is actually deeply, deeply flawed. Take a look at the breakdown of election results from the Guardian here. While the Conservative Party got only 36.9% of the vote, nowhere near gaining the support of a majority of the electorate, they got the lion’s share of seats with an overall majority and thus complete power. Similarly, while the Green Party were just 1% behind the SNP in votes, they got one seat compared to the SNP’s 56.

We in Britain are currently facing a crisis of voter engagement. The people of Britain, particularly young people, are becoming disenfranchised and disinterested with a government that consistently fails to represent them or their interests. Many people, myself included, felt forced to vote tactically for a party they disliked just to keep out a party they dislike even more. While when the FPTP system was used in the 1800s, people tended to vote much more along with other people in their area, we now not only move around the country much more but also tend to view ourselves politically along identity lines which are national and international. A well placed spread of Conservative voters and the proliferation of tactical voting has prevented millions of people from having their voice heard, and the British public will not tolerate much more.

There are some who say that the current voting system is fine, and they often particularly point to the fact that it has prevented UKIP from gaining seats. Now, I disagree with UKIP on pretty much everything. I think they are preying on people’s fears and stirring up hatred in a country which I love for its openness and tolerance. But how do we expect to win people over from the far right if what we say and do just backs up their arguments? If we claim to be democrats, we cannot refuse to change a voting system where 12% of people in the country are given just one seat in Parliament, just because we happen to disagree with them. Stifling people’s voices will not win them over, it will just encourage people to flock to extremes, and it is painfully undemocratic.

And to those who say that this sentiment just stems from bitterness at the Conservative victory: I challenge you. If you care about democracy in this country, don’t settle for a government with 36.9% of the vote: join the movement for a new voting system which will give the Tory party the representation it deserves too. You cannot ignore a crisis of legitimacy in this country just because a party you approve of has happened to win this election. Who knows what party will come to power next time – it may well be your vote that is one of the wasted. People of all parties and across the political spectrum should be rallying to force the state to truly represent the wishes of the British people.

We are witnessing a crisis of governmental legitimacy. The Power Inquiry, an excellent investigation into voter disengagement in the UK, warns that we are heading towards a society in which “the processes of democracy, including general elections, become empty rituals.” If the voting system does not change, we will be stuck with a series of governments that do not reflect the will of the people. And who knows what will happen when the British people have had enough of a government that no longer represents them.