Is winning enough?

With an ever-growing proportion of non-devolved English voters feeling unrepresented in Westminster, the Conservative’s achieving 51% of the seats in the House of Commons with just 36.9% of the vote, is one of the principle nations for democracy still democratic?

This gap between votes and seats highlights the weakness of the First Past The Post (FPTP) system in an ever more diverse electorate, with 11 parties being awarded seats totaling 26.9% of votes cast yet only getting 30 of the 649 seats in return, that’s 4.7% of the total seats up for grabs on May 7th. Yet, on the other hand, the Scottish National Party won just 4.7% of the vote, roughly one-fifth of the votes cast for those 11 other parties but being awarded 56 seats in Westminster, that’s 8.7% of the seats available. Is it reasonable for a system that lets parties with larger numbers of supporters such as UKIP, the Green party or the Liberal Democrats totaling 7.4 million voters to share 10 seats between them? Meanwhile, parties such as Labour that only achieved 9.3 million votes across the country to enjoy 232 seats, 23 times the seats for just 1.9 million more votes!

In the worst example of a Member of Parliament winning a seat without a majority of the votes was in Belfast South, the Social Democratic Labour Party (SDLP) candidate, Alasdair McDonnell, won the seat with just 24.5% of the vote, despite the fact that 75.5% of constituents voting for other candidates, it was the fact that Mr McDonnell had more votes then this opponents that was all that mattered in order to win the seat.

Meanwhile in the devolved governments of London, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland a lower disparity between votes casts and seats given. On March 3rd Northern Ireland held its Assembly elections with the region being divided into 18 voting districts, but each of these districts electing 5 representatives each, proportionally. This had meant that the largest unionist party the Democratic Unionist Party’s (DUP) 28.1% of the vote to equal 28 of Northern Ireland’s 90 seats, and the largest republican party Sinn Fein to achieve 27 seats with its 27.9% of the vote, seats better reflecting their voter shares. If the votes from the 2015 General Election were reflected in a similar fashion the Conservative party would have only achieved around 240 seats, 90 fewer than they eventually did win.

Could this increasing disparity between votes and seats be the final nail in the coffin for FPTP? Not according to the government that often cites the 2011 failed Alternative Vote referendum in order to push against suggestions in favor of other voting systems such as those used more and more as a better representation of democracy or is tradition enough to justify the continuation of a false 2 party system?


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