Tony Benn
Credit: Pryere, Flickr

Jess Carrington

Hospital Social Worker. UNISON

The late Tony Benn always said we should ask five questions of politicians ending with ‘How can we get rid of you?’

That should be an easy question to answer – go to the post box or visit the ballot box on election day and vote for the person you want to represent you.

Unfortunately, the First Past the Post system can’t be relied on to deliver your first-choice candidate, or even a candidate that comes close to your politics and you don’t get to state a second preference.

In fact, you might find that the person who gets elected isn’t the most popular choice of even half the voters in your area. It might be the case that say, with four candidates standing, three have progressive politics more like yours and only one is right of centre. 

You are now faced with a choice – do you vote tactically for the left of centre candidate you actually want or the one most likely to win, but who doesn’t most closely represent your views?

In every election, up and down the country this is a decision that countless voters have to make – go with your heart or vote for your least worst option.

Whilst you and many others tackle this decision, the Tory candidate is sitting pretty, certain to secure 100% of the right-wing vote, with the potential to sail through the middle of a split left vote and win the seat. That is what the First Past the Post system allows to happen.

In the General Election of 2019, whilst the Conservatives won 43% of the votes cast, this translated to 56% of the seats in the House of Commons.  Many people know their vote won’t count and have no incentive to vote at all.

Analysis of the 2021 English local elections shows more candidates being fielded from the left of centre than the right. Conservatives are dominating the right of politics whilst the left of centre parties are competing with each other.

In nearly half of wards (48%) there was one unified ‘right’ party (Conservatives) standing candidates against all three of the ‘left’ parties (Labour/Lib Dem/Green).

There were a further 32% of wards where there was one right-wing party (always the Conservatives apart from a UKIP candidate in Derby) standing candidates against two of the largest left-wing parties (Labour/Lib Dem/Green).

An alternative to voting tactically, is a recent trend for voters to try to ‘swap’ their votes at elections – another example of trying to work around the system.

Parties themselves are also forced into discussions of how to game the system through alliances and candidates standing down.  This would be unnecessary under Proportional Representation; with PR you could always vote for who you support.

The UK Parliament has a two-party voting system, that in modern times will deliver either a Tory or a Labour Government. Smaller parties barely get a look-in. For decades, all the trends are that people want to vote for a range of parties, but with a two-party voting system that produces warped outcomes, it is benefitting the Conservatives time and time again. 

Every time the Conservatives get in, they introduce more draconian anti-trade union legislation. If we want that to stop, we need a progressive government.

We need the Labour Party to listen to its members and its affiliated trade unions and include a commitment to change to a proportional voting system if they secure power.

In every election, we need to be able to vote for a progressive government that will always give working people a seat at the table, that will always act in our interests and who will always uphold the values of trade unionism, where progressive politics was born. 

We need to fix our voting system.

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