How fair is the current UK voting system?

The UK voting system has come under significant pressure over the last few weeks after David Cameron was able to deliver a Conservative majority in the House of Commons with a vote share of just 36.9%. This equated to 331 seats against 232 seats for the Labour Party with a share of the vote of 30.4%. The system is based along boundaries and has no connection to the number of voters in each particular constituency.

There were attempts under the former Conservative/Liberal Democrat coalition to reorganise these boundaries to give a fairer share of seats based upon the share of the vote. However, like so many policies under a coalition government it never quite materialised in the way in which many had hoped and was effectively kicked into the long grass.

Is the current system fair?

Aside from the fact that the Conservative Party has been able to deliver a majority based upon just 6.5% extra share of the vote compared to the Labour Party is difficult to comprehend. However, when you look at the Scottish National Party (SNP) which was able to secure 56 seats with just 4.7% of the vote, the system does start to fall apart.

The situation get worse when you consider the Liberal Democrats at 7.9% of the vote managed to secure just eight seats and UKIP with an impressive 12.6% share of the vote managed just one seat. It is also worth mentioning that the Green Party secured 3.8% of the overall vote but was only able to secure one seat. Many would argue the system does not give a fair representation of the UK voting public in the House of Commons.

Will the system ever be changed?

If you sit back and take a look at the situation from a distance, if you were the Conservative Party or the Labour Party would you consider giving ground to your opponents by switching to a system based upon the percentage of votes obtained by each party. When you bear in mind that the Conservative Party and the Labour Party are in effective control of House of Commons it would seem to be a situation of “turkeys voting for Christmas”. They may promise to review the voting system, they may suggest it is not a fair system but ultimately the main parties have everything to lose and nothing to gain from change.

Even though many people would describe votes for the likes of the SNP and UKIP as a protest vote it is worth noting that the SNP effectively ruled Scotland and UKIP managed to obtain 12.6% of the UK vote. The proof will be in the pudding when the next general election comes round because so-called “protest votes” tend to be a one-off and are not repeated.

The SNP were nearly kingmakers

There are many flaws in the UK voting system one of which potentially offered the SNP (with just 4.7% of the UK vote but 56 seats) the opportunity to become kingmaker. The idea was that by voting with the Labour Party the SNP would help Labour into office but the party would have been dependent upon SNP support to push through its policies. Indeed the SNP even suggested it would oust David Cameron from number 10 Downing Street even if he secured the most seats but failed to secure a majority.

So, a party with just 4.7% of the national vote stood on the verge of dictating future policies for a UK government dominated by two parties with over 30% share of the vote each. That in itself, as well as the UKIP scenario where 12.6% of the vote equated to just one seat, would suggest that the UK voting system does need updating?

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