The Case Against First Past the Post

Jasper Evans

It is a tale as old as time. The years of a new government drag on, the opposition, without an election in sight, gets restless. The idea of endorsing electoral reform once again pops up, its name having been hesitantly called. Yet again the Labour party is considering a switch away from first past the post. And as always, the electoral calculators emerge, and get to work calculating the potential ‘rainbow alliance’.

Never mind that last time the Liberal democrats, like a 35-year-old white professional, decided on the Conservatives after flirting with a left-leaning coalition. Never mind that proportional representation would almost certainly lead to the end of the Labour party as we know it, with the left and right wings already picking at the seams. Never mind that how people vote now is dependent on their knowledge of the political system, and may well change if we switched.

No, the switch to PR would almost certainly lead to a Labour – Lib Dem coalition, these advocates say. Yet, despite the optimistic impossibility of these outcomes, this change is still one worth going for. Fundamentally, the aim of the Labour party is to improve the lives of the many, not to have a majority of seats in parliament. A PR system may lead to the end of the party, but it would also end the constant manufactures right wing rule – in the last 21 elections, there has not been a single majority of right-wing votes, yet there has been a right-wing majority in seats in 10 of those, covering the majority of the period.

Coalition building would require policies to be at the forefront of the agenda, with popular left-wing plans such as nationalisation of the rail or higher taxes on the wealthy becoming far more likely. Policies for the good of all will be more likely under a PR system. Yet the heart of it goes even deeper still. The Labour party has always been a democratic party, it believes that the people should lead the nation; our current system does not allow that. It took 38 thousand votes to elect each conversative MP, the greens, on the other hand, needed 866 thousand. Beyond day-to-day politics and policies, we need to ensure we live in a country where people’s votes actually matter.

Political reform will not guarantee a magnificent Lib-Lab majority next election, but it doesn’t need to to justify itself. The Labour party stands for bettering the lives of the people, and democracy; we can’t do that if we keep trying to be the first past the post.

Photo credit: thepicturedrome via Flickr

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