By Richard Wood
I’ve thrown my hat into the ring to join the Electoral Reform Society’s governing body. This is not the first time I’ve stood and it certainly won’t be the last.
Why? I am entering because the UK needs to radically upgrade its democracy, most importantly by prioritising Proportional Representation. And as a committed electoral reform activist, I believe I have the skills necessary for the role.
Replacing First Past the Post with Proportional Representation
The main reform needed at Westminster is the introduction of Proportional Representation (PR). We are almost a quarter of the way through the 21st century and yet we’re stuck using a relic from the 19th century: First Past the Post.
Replacing First Past the Post with Proportional Representation is the single most important reform needed in British politics. Without PR our elections are semi-representative at best.
First Past the Post distorts the link between seats and votes. At the last election, the Conservatives won a majority of seats (and 100% of the power) on just 43% of the vote. It also leads to wasted votes in every seat across the country, leaving millions unaccounted for. And because of all that, FPTP leads to tactical voting. An estimated 1 in 4 people planned on voting tactically at the 2019 election because they thought their preferred candidate had no chance of winning in their constituency. That is a travesty.
What’s more, First Past the Post doesn’t even always work as intended. Our current system is meant to produce so-called clear majorities and strong governments. Two of the last four elections have failed to deliver majority governments. The system fails on its own standards. Not to mention the fact that the party with the most seats is sometimes the party without the highest number of votes cast. These wrong-winner elections were seen in the UK in 1951 and February 1974 – and most recently at the 2019 Canadian General Election. This year’s wrong-winner election in Canada (the second in a row) proves this further.
The Electoral Reform Society was set up to campaign against this broken system, well over 100 years ago. The organisation rightly wants to replace FPTP with Proportional Representation (STV). I am standing for election to champion this priority.
Proportional Representation will massively improve British democracy in two major ways. Firstly, it will improve national representation by ensuring that seats match votes and wasted votes are limited. Yes, voters currently vote based on candidates but to use this as a reason against reform when national politics and political parties are impossible to separate from individual constituency elections is an insult. Voters take into account individual candidates but also national politics when at the polls. Under PR, the proportion of seats won by a party will fairly reflect the proportion of votes cast for said party. And many systems such as STV can do this while empowering voters to consider the merits of individual candidates as well. This will lead to a stronger link between people and parliament.
Secondly, PR will improve constituency Representation by strengthening the constituency link. By giving voters multiple representatives, voters not only have more choice and power at the ballot box, but in between elections, voters will have more choice about who to go to in order to represent them. The idea that an MP can accurately represent all their constituents is admirable but goes against political reality. Multi-member constituencies will strengthen that link by empowering voters at the ballot box and in between elections.
I have long campaigned for Proportional Representation and other electoral reforms. In addition to my role running Upgrade Holyrood, my experience also includes being an activist for Make Votes Matter, the campaign-group for Proportional Representation, as well as having been the former Media Director of youth-led think-tank TalkPolitics, which supported fair voting as part of a wider package of reforms to improve democracy.
I currently work in Westminster – for the Liberal Democrats’ spokesperson for Political and Constitutional Reform.
From all these positions, I can bring communications, governance, research and press experience to the council. I also have experience of working well with different parties/groups in the campaign for democratic change.
I also regularly contribute to Politics.co.uk, writing on electoral reform issues.
The UK needs Proportional Representation now and there is a real opportunity to achieve that at the next general election. I believe the Electoral Reform Society should prioritise Proportional Representation (STV) and play a leading role in delivering that change at the next election.
Other democratic reforms are important and I strongly support efforts to improve our politics in any way possible. Westminster needs to modernise and we need a democratic upper chamber in place of the House of Lords.
However, replacing First Past the Post with PR should be the primary focus of the Electoral Reform Society.
That is why I am standing to join the council. If you are a member, please consider giving me your first preference vote.
Let’s upgrade our democracy and make First Past the Post history.
Members will be able to vote between 22 September and 22 October either online of via a postal ballot.