Published on January 6th, 2015 |
by Josh Gray
Has the resurgence in British democracy highlighted the urgent need for electoral change?
The May General Election will see the fourth anniversary of the UK wide referendum on changing the electoral system for future British Elections. The no vote on whether or not to instil the Alternative Vote system for British national elections damned all hopes of electoral reform within Britain in 2011, but is it time that politicians as well as the electorate reconsider electoral reform and enact change.
The 2011 referendum saw only the second nationwide question posed to the British public. This devastating failure for campaigners of proportional representation saw partisan interests take precedent over democratic credentials, with much of the public not knowing the full extent of what change really would mean for future British politics. The Conservative party being against democratic change, and the Labour party being split over the issue divided the public, eventually putting a halt to campaigners of the ‘change’ vote. Over the past twenty years many aging democracies, such as New Zealand, Japan and Italy have opted to modernise their voting system and create a more proportional and representative Parliamentary system, but in 2011 the time was not right for the British public to accept a need for change.
The ‘Occupy Democracy’ movement has shown resurgence in the belief that Britain too should modernise and move to a system that greater represents the needs and beliefs of the electorate, thus further living up to the title of representative democracy. The rise of the Green Party and the UK Independence Party highlights the changing nature of British political tastes; both parties are unlikely to achieve the vast sums of Parliamentary seats their support deserves under the current First-Past-the-Post system. A change could see British politics move from its traditional two party system, to a more open, accountable system better represents the current ideological makeup of society.
When looking at possible changes to the electoral system, from the majoritarian First-Past-the-Post, a system in which Parliamentary seats are divided into single member constituencies and a simple majority is needed in order to become the biggest party in government, there are two prominent alternatives. The first of these alternatives is a more preferential based system, in which voters rank their choice of candidate in preferential order. This would hark back to the 2011 referendum and see resurgence in calls for the Alternative Vote system, thus electors would rank their choices of candidates. If the candidate reaches the 50 percent quota, they are automatically elected, but if not then the lowest rank candidate is eliminated and their votes are redistributed among the remaining candidates.
A second choice when assigning a new electoral system to British General elections are more proportional systems such as the Single Transferable Vote system. While being similar to AV+ in the sense that electors rank candidates in a preferential order, STV differs due to candidates not needing a majority of votes to be elected, but merely need to meet a quota. This makes the system far more proportional and would more adequately represent the British electorate, but would also be more likely to lead to divided parliamentary assemblies and less decisive, stable government.
When assessing British needs for a new electoral system it is important that the public, as well as politicians, remove themselves from their own partisan preferences and decide whether they value stable, decisive government or want a more adequate, representative political system. It seems that throughout 2014, public opinion has started to shift towards the latter, but will this continue through to 2015? Will the British public further test politician’s will power to avoid the question of electoral and political reform.
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