Millions of voters were systematically ignored in this election – we desperately need proportional representation

One thing was clear before a single result came in on Thursday night. The system is not just bust – it’s bankrupt

Darren Hughes
Friday 13 December 2019 18:40 GMT
General election 2019: How the night unfolded

A huge amount of time was given this election to talk about how to game the system – whether that’s parties trying to deal with the straight-jacket of the voting system through electoral pacts, or the 30 per cent of voters having to "hold their nose" and vote tactically (as shown by BMG research).

It is no surprise that people feel let down by the democratic contest on offer: when 80 per cent of people feel that they have no or not very much influence over decision-making in the country, you can’t blame them.

Even before the election, just 16 per cent of the public believed politics is working well in the UK – and only two per cent of people felt they have a significant influence over decision-making.

That is a damning indictment of a political machine that is desperately unresponsive and out of touch.

This election was called because Westminster's system had left the country in a deadlock: a political mentality that treats cooperation and dialogue as taboo, despite voters wanting to "shop around" more than ever.

And it is a system that has warped electoral results for too long while heightening divisions along a binary Leave/Remain axis spiral out of control. The tools of compromise and working together have been left to rust away.

Now the results are in, we’ve lifted the lid on the rotten state of winner-takes-all results.

Parties needed wildly different levels of support to secure each MP.

With 649 seats declared, the Electoral Reform Society (ERS) analysed the number of votes needed per MP elected:

It took:

  • 864,743 to elect the lone Green MP
  • 642,303 votes for zero Brexit Party MPs
  • 334,122 to elect each Liberal Democrat
  • 50,817 to elect each Labour MP
  • 38,300 votes to elect each Conservative MP
  • 38,316 to elect each Plaid Cymru MP
  • 25,882 to elect each SNP MP

That’s because – unlike most developed democracies – we use First Past the Post voting, where all ballots not cast for the one winner in each seat go to waste. Across the country, that means millions of votes are ignored.

Because of that, 45 per cent of voters went totally unrepresented (they didn’t vote for the one winner in their area). That’s 14.5 million people feeling voiceless. And it means the new government was able to win a large majority of seats on a minority of the vote.

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It’s clear we can’t carry on in this way. Politicians will return to the House of Commons on Monday with voters across the spectrum hoping for real political reform. From dark ads and dodgy donations, to people feeling forced to vote tactically, this election did not reflect well on our democracy.

There are big questions for both parties now. The Conservatives must recognise they were helped by the Brexit Party standing down in existing Conservative seats, while Labour must recognise that tactical voting under Westminster’s voting system did not save them.

We have to build a bigger movement than ever for real reform. Together, let’s make this the last "hold your nose" – and make seats match votes.

Darren Hughes is chief executive of the Electoral Reform Society

Join the campaign for proportional representation today, and sign the ERS’ petition.​

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