The British political system is in bad shape. Mistrust of politicians is dangerously high, as Peter Kellner’s recent research shows, and voter apathy has increased dramatically over the past 20 years.
A major part of the problem is our dated electoral system. Our first past the post (FPTP) system means a candidate does not need to secure a majority of votes in their constituency, only the largest number of votes. Presently, in two thirds of seats, the MP has less than 50% of votes. No wonder people feel they are not well represented; the majority of voters did not vote for their sitting MP. Furthermore, nearly 60% of constituencies are seats which, election after election, always stay with the same party. No wonder people feel nothing changes; in many areas, it just doesn’t.
The public are clearly eager for solutions to improve the state of British politics—yesterday The Independent on Sunday published a poll claiming that nearly two thirds of voters are open to changing the current voting system. Crucially, over half of Conservative voters are open to persuasion. Conservative MPs should take note. After all, if they truly want a Big Society in which the public is engaged with politics, and if they truly believe in the kind of market-based reforms they are pushing through in education and health, then the Tories ought to get behind AV.
When reforming systems, Conservatives tend to look to how market forces can help. They favour policies that trigger greater competition between providers of goods, driving up standards to produce greater quality and choice for users. This, for instance, is the philosophy behind the government’s education policy. In theory, free schools and more academies mean more choice for parents, and therefore improved standards across the board as schools compete to attract students.
But when it comes to our voting system, the Conservative leadership seems to neglect this market-based thinking. Instead, it prefers the status quo: FPTP. Advocates say it is a good system because, above all, it is more likely to lead to strong, single-party government. But this argument simply defends producer interests and enhances the ability of politicians to govern easily.
If you are a fervent believer in democracy…