Making the case for electoral reform from scratch

Electoral reform is very much on people’s minds as they struggle on how to vote and reflect on the prospects of a hung parliament. David Cameron has defended the current ‘first past the post’ system by saying ” I want us to keep the current system that enables you to throw a government out of office.”

Which is a deeply untruthful answer, as Cameron must surely know. He faces a battle to swing enough seats to win a majority in the face of the voting system’s Labour bias. In 2005 the vast majority of voters didn’t vote for Labour, yet Labour were returned to power with a majority in parliament. Not exactly the ‘throwing out’ Cameron suggests.

But rather than getting bogged down in debates about strong governments, coalitions and the experiences of Germany, Italy or Spain; let’s go back to first principles.

As a developed society we have evolved public services, benefits, a legal system and taxation to fund these. How these are run, what they do and how they work are important decisions which affect us all.

So that we can spend most of time living our lives, doing our work and caring for our families, we have chosen to delegate the decision-making to representatives. We generally agree that the best way to choose people to represent us is by an election where every citizen has one vote. The principle is that our preferences can all be heard equally because we want our chosen representatives to be representative of us. But the electoral system we use  (how votes are translated into representatives) affects the results.

Surely if 15% of people vote for party X and 20% vote for party Y then the percentage of representatives from each of those parties must be as close as possible to those percentages. That’s the most fair and representative outcome. And we know countries like Sweden, Norway and Germany with fair electoral systems have good stable governments and a healthy diversity of views in a mature political culture.

That’s why we need electoral reform – for fairer election results, a more diverse parliament and a better politics.

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