In our system of first past the post, we vote for the best candidate for our constituency. Of course, very few people take the time to read up or speak to the candidate and instead tend to rely upon the outpourings of the party they claim to represent. Many of us will vote along party lines irrespective of who the candidate is. This leads to two significant problems in our elections.
The first is that weak candidates can win in strong areas. If the majority for a particular party is large in one constituency it is very difficult to shift enough opinion to make a difference and so candidates don’t necessarily need to be that impressive. Hence they are often referred to as safe seats.
The more worrying aspect is that people are often faced with the choice of who not to vote for. First past the post means that it is extremely unlikely that, at the next election, the winning party won’t come from either the Conservatives or Labour. In most English constituencies therefore you have a stark choice, vote for one or vote for the other. This leads to the bizarre situation of tactical voting where if you don’t want either party to win you vote for the least worse in your opinion, rather than the person or party you would like to see win.
It is impossible to say, of the 2019 election, how many of the 43.6% of votes that went to the Conservatives were to avoid a Labour win or vice versa, but I for one had to grit my teeth as I placed my X on the ballot paper.
This is why we need a form of proportional representation. Only when the outcome of an election reflects what the people really want to vote for, rather than feel impelled to vote for, will we have a representative parliament, one where even smaller parties can have a seat at the table and represent those who voted for them.
By getting rid of first past the post we will no longer feel the need to vote tactically and all of our votes will have meaning.