We Need to Talk About Proportional Representation


It has been 4 weeks since Brexit and the country’s political state is well… questionable? We have a new (doubly unelected) Prime Minister, Labour in turmoil, Boris Johnson as our Foreign Secretary, Scotland and Northern Ireland questioning their position within the union, and the only amount of stability we will see over these coming months and years is the fact that Larry the Cat still resides at Number Ten (phew).

With the amount of turmoil that has been on the cards it is now time to consider the case for Proportional Representation (PR), as it is becoming clear our First Past the Post System (FPTP) is failing to deliver a sufficient opposition and a government that represents the majority of the people.

The Alternative Vote system referendum in 2011 was poorly executed, and left the Liberal Democrats embarrassed at the defeat of the motion. Yet in 2016, the prospect of Proportional Representation as an alternative to the current system should be seriously considered. None of the parties as they currently stand are ‘united’ post-Brexit, and Labour are consequently unable to provide a serious opposition to the Conservative party. Since Corbyn’s election last year many shadow ministers have resigned under his watch, while several others defied their party whip because of his leadership. The latest leadership challenge does not look like it will remove Corbyn as leader, as he remains as popular as when he was first elected with party members.

The reason why being that Corbyn represents a move to Old Labour, the grassroots movement that started the party. Corbyn is the manifestation of the Left, where many Labour supporters believe the party should stand. However, his MP’s see the party in a completely different manner. In fact Corbyn’s MP’s see a move to the left as being backwards, and despite Corbyn’s huge mandate from their constituents, they still fail to support him. Labour is not failing because it is too left, Labour is failing because there is a problem with the FPTP electoral system. As Corbyn looks set to win his leadership challenge, this is something that will tear the party apart. If he wins again, Corbyn and his Labour will not be able to form a significant opposition, and neither will his defectors at the centre. If Corbyn wins, there will be a huge hole within parliament which can only be filled by the use of Proportional Representation, as the FPTP system will not be able to function.

The diversification of parties away from the centre is not just unique to the Labour party, it is also happening within the Conservative Party. May is presented to be this big ‘unifier’, yet she too will be faced with the diversification of her party. She is already an unelected leader of the party with all of her other opponents resigning, and she is an unelected Prime Minister, meaning that her official mandate is weak. She supported the remain campaign during the referendum yet is expected to lead a party and a country out of the European Union, with three far righters in her new cabinet. The Tory party’s infighting will not get better under her leadership, and it will only move further away from the centre right policies of Cameron, further towards the far right of the party, again leaving a hole in the centre of UK politics. Until May has an official mandate, she will be unable to pacify the far right of her party, which may either cause splits, or pull the party to the right. The reason for this again is because of the problem with the FPTP system. Under PR it would be harder to form a majority, but the kinds of party infighting currently faced within the two major parties would not be happening. The EU referendum has caused huge splits within the two main political parties; inadvertently forcing them both to the extremes of the spectrum, without any strong centre ground to appease the majority of voters.

FPTP is also failing because of the rise of the smaller parties, chiefly in terms of the number of votes they received. Although none of the smaller parties made great gains in the last general election (apart from the SNP), the number of votes they received is significantly greater than the 2010 General Election, representing further diversification of UK politics. In 2010 the Green Party only managed just under 300,000 votes, and UKIP just over 900,000. Adversely in 2015, the Green Party’s votes soared to over a million votes, with UKIP trebling its performance at just under 4 million votes. These increases are huge, yet still the Green Party and UKIP have the same number of MPs in parliament as they did in 2010, despite these exponential increases. Under the FPTP system, these two parties are majorly disadvantaged and so are the voters who support these parties. They clearly voted for them because they thought they would be an alternative, yet their voices and votes are wasted under a current system, causing many people to vote tactically or for a party which is simply too diverse.

Overall, FPTP is failing because UK political parties are diversifying and polarising. The two main parties are failing to control the extremities and no longer represent what people voted for back in 2015. With the economic uncertainty, Labour and the Tories will find themselves controlling their inner demons, whilst smaller parties like the SNP, Greens, and UKIP continue to gain strength. The UK has outgrown the FPTP system, and the EU referendum has proved that there are too many opposing views to be represented within the two main political parties. The time has come to seriously consider Proportional Representation, or else watch the two main parties struggle to get a grip and fail to claim a majority in the next election.


I am a second year Modern History and Politics student.

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