By Stephen Flaherty, Nottingham East CLP
First-past-the-post (FPTP) damages the link between Labour and its supporters. Proportional representation (PR) would improve it.
Knowsley in Merseyside and Hampshire North-East seemingly have nothing in common. They are the safest seats in the country for Labour and the Tories respectively. Safe seats like this exist all over the country. They’re an inevitable consequence of FPTP, which rewards geographical unevenness. What must it be like to be a Labour voter in Hampshire North-East? To know that, barring a 25% swing in the vote, your vote won’t matter?
There are 100 or so seats in the country where your vote does matter, which are likely to change hands during an election. These seats get more attention paid to them during elections than the average seat. Why bother if they’re either ‘in the bag’ or a lost cause? Momentum acknowledged this during the last election. The ‘Your Nearest Marginal’ website was a way of saying that some seats are more important than others.
This is a natural result of FPTP. Blair came to an obvious conclusion: why bother looking after the safe seats? We’ve got them; they have nowhere else to go. Let’s try to get votes in the marginals. This meant going after the centre vote – middle England – and to hell with the Labour heartlands.
The results of that were plain to see by 2015. One of the more disturbing things about the 5m votes lost by Blair was the fact that a good proportion of them were traditional Labour voters. “I didn’t leave the Labour party, the Labour party left me” was a common refrain. The logic of FPTP had produced short term gains that Blair had benefited from, but by 2015 the long term consequences were obvious.
And then the unthinkable happened: Labour lost one of its heartlands. Scotland was reduced from 41 Labour MPs to just 1.We’re still dealing with the fallout. The fight between Labour and the SNP let the Tories gain 12 Scottish seats due to FPTP. Without them, May wouldn’t have been able to form a coalition with the DUP.
Imagine a PR system. Single transferable vote (STV) uses multi-seat constituencies. The Campaign for Electoral Reform have ran a simulation of how 2017 would have turned out based on a mixture of the actual votes and surveys of the electorate’s voting intention if allowed to vote preferentially, using 3 to 6 seat constituencies. Under this simulation, the seats of Knowsley, St Helen’s North and St Helen’s South – all solid Labour seats – become one 3-seat constituency of Knowsley and St Helen’s. The results are 2 Labour and 1 Tory MP are elected for the constituency.
What sort of fool’s bargain is it to swap 3 Labour MPs for 2 Labour and 1 Tory? But let’s look at the safe Tory seat in Hampshire. Hampshire North East, Aldershot, Hampshire North-West and Basingstoke – all solid Tory seats – become one 4-seat constituency of North Hampshire. And it returns 2 Tories, 1 Labour and 1 Lib Dem. Suddenly, all votes matter! The Tory in Knowsley and St Helen’s is vulnerable as a small swing would see all three seats become Labour. So Labour has an incentive to campaign there, which it doesn’t have under FPTP as they’re already “in the bag.”
Likewise, a 5% swing in North Hampshire might see a second Labour MP elected at the expense of the Lib Dems (and, of course, a 5% swing the other way could see the Tories or Lib Dems snatching the seat from Labour), so it’s worth Labour campaigning there too. In marginals – like the multi-seat constituency that Nuneaton would be part of – you get 2 Labour and 2 Tories, with a swing either way turning it into a 3-1 split.
As you can see – every vote matters, everywhere, under PR. This is exactly why we should support it.
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