The Speaker
Saturday, 25 May 2024 – 20:56

The price of Liberal Democrat support for a Labour minority government would start with electoral reform without a referendum

NOTE: This is an opinion article – any views expressed in this article are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Speaker or any members of its team.

While the chance of the Labour Party ever needing to draw upon the Liberal Democrat’s support to form a government seems highly unlikely given the current catastrophe that is the Conservative party, this demand from the Liberal Democrats raises an interesting point: electoral reform. Electoral systems, to most people, are excessively complex and something to stay away from and many people may equally say ‘It works, so why change it?’. This article, therefore, will attempt to explain what electoral reform is and why the Liberal Democrats are so insistent upon it.

You may be familiar with the term First Past the Post or FPTP, it is the electoral system that is used here in the UK. In basic terms, FPTP means that whichever candidate gets the most votes win the entire constituency – for example, Boris Johnson got 52.6% of the vote in his constituency in 2019 and was therefore the winner. Now, this sounds logical on a local level, whoever gets the most votes win the constituency, but problems arise when you look at it on a national level. Let’s take the 2015 General Election, where UKIP received 12.6% of the vote yet only received 1 seat in parliament – which is 0.2% of the total MPs available – this indicates a huge flaw in the First Past the Post system. It simply does not reflect the views of the public, how is it possible that UKIP only got 1 MP with 12.6% of the vote yet the SNP in the same election got 56 seats with only 4.7% of the vote.
The Liberal Democrat demand for electoral reform, therefore, would demand that the United Kingdom switch its electoral system away from First Past the Post to a system known as Proportional Representation. Now what is proportional representation, or PR for short? PR essentially means that party’s representation in parliament is proportionally representative of their vote share (I.e., UKIP in 2015 would have received 80 seats in parliament under a PR which is roughly 12% of a 650-seat parliament).

For the Liberal Democrats then, it is rather obvious why they are backing Proportional Representation. They wish for a more representative electoral system, which is probably something a lot of the public are wishing for given this tory crisis, as they want a system in which voters voices are heard and parliament more accurately reflects the views of the public. Of course, there is some form of bias from the Liberal Democrats as under proportional representation they would be set to gain massively – as shown in a model of what the 2019 election results would have been under PR, with the Liberal Democrats gaining 59 seats putting them on 70 rather than their meagre 11 – but it does raise the question ‘Is a voting system where 336 thousand Liberal Democrats equal 1 MP and in the same system 1 Scottish Nationalist MP is worth 25 thousand votes a democratic system?’.

Ultimately, it is unlikely that the Liberal Democrats will be able to enact their demands given the Labour Party’s polling figures – but it is nonetheless food for thought. Maybe one day, we will have a different electoral system and maybe when that day comes our politics may look very different indeed.

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