Editor's letter: Britain needs a revolution. Start with how we vote

It’s not just Ukip and the SNP that are thriving

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The Independent Online

Here’s a simple question: how can a voting system designed for two-party politics accommodate six of them? Answer: only by obliterating what’s left of British democracy.

What happened in Clacton this week, where Douglas Carswell became Ukip’s first elected MP with an astonishing margin of 12,404 votes, was remarkable. But perhaps the bigger story was the party coming second by just 617 votes in Heywood and Middleton. Yes, Labour held on to its 40 per cent share of the vote; but Ukip’s rose from 3 per cent in 2010 to 39 per cent. Clearly it is now a genuine threat in Labour’s northern heartlands. Meanwhile a resurgent SNP could do serious damage to Ed Miliband’s hopes in Scotland.

It’s not just Ukip and the SNP that are thriving. The Green Party already has an MP, is regularly polling at around 7 per cent, and could yet mop up plenty of left-leaning voters unable to forgive Labour for Iraq, or the Liberal Democrats for tuition fees.

And yet our whole political system is still designed around two-party rule. Divisions between the parties today make little sense: Nick Boles (Tory), David Laws (Lib Dem) and Tessa Jowell (Labour) belong in one party, not three. In the 1950s, when a more rigid class system ruled Britain, Labour and the Tories could between them rely on the support of 98 per cent of us. Now it’s barely two-thirds.

It’s possible that our next prime minister will have the backing of just one in five of us, which will only fuel the contempt that most of the public feel toward the political class. That contempt has many causes: a sense that Westminster has become unrepresentative, stuffed with party apparatchiks who know nothing about how the rest of us live; a disgraceful Iraq war that a million of us marched against, to no avail; an expenses scandal; and an economic crisis that poor people didn’t cause – but did have to pay for.

Long before Ukip took Clacton, then, British democracy was in crisis. We need to reinvigorate it. Actually there are many good ideas for doing so in a book called The End of Politics and the Birth of iDemocracy, published in 2012 by one Douglas Carswell. But start at the beginning: how we vote.

First past the post might have been saved in a referendum, but the rise of Ukip, the SNP and the Greens will rumble its shaky foundations afresh. This system tells the vast majority of voters – i.e. those who don’t live in marginal constituencies – their vote doesn’t count. Is it any wonder that our democracy is in the doldrums when so many people feel irrelevant to it?

Only a revolution will allow us to escape our current slumber. A new voting system is the place to start.