Problem, Reaction, Solution: Why understandable efforts to boost voter turnout miss the point

UPDATE: To be clear, NOTA UK are NOT ‘telling people to not vote’ as has been claimed. We are saying do whatever makes sense to you on polling day. But if you care about improving democracy, then please take the time to fully understand the system you are participating in so that you may evaluate the potential impact, or lack of impact, that your vote, or non-vote, will have in your constituency.

While it is commendable that so many prominent figures are urging people to register to vote and encouraging them to use their vote at the 2015 election, it is incredibly frustrating for anyone who understands how the current electoral system actually works that the false idea that we can vote our way into a better paradigm is being peddled alongside this.

The ‘if more people vote things will change’ myth is easily debunked. The myth goes that because 15.9 million people didn’t vote at the last election and the party with the most votes got only 10.7 million, if those people were to vote this time a result other than a Tory or Labour majority government, or a coalition with one or other of those two parties calling the shots, would be possible.

To illustrate why this is a false belief, I will use the example of my own constituency of Horsham.

First though, I will briefly outline how our First Past The Post (FPTP) system gives an unfair advantage to Labour and the Tories from the off.

Designed for two party politics, and therefore totally inappropriate in a multi-party system, FPTP ensures a two horse race in the vast majority of constituencies every single time. Not always between Labour and the Tories, sometimes it is Labour and the Lib Dems, or Lib Dems and the Tories, or even a smaller party and one of the big three. But in most seats, one or other of the only two in the running will be Labour or the Tories as they are the most established parties with the strongest traditional support bases nationally.

To form a government it is necessary for a party or coalition of parties to win a majority of seats in parliament. But because FPTP decrees that the candidate with the most votes in each seat wins even if the majority of voters voted against them (spread out over several parties), the percentage of vote share for each party never corresponds to the percentage of seats they have won. Example: in 2010 the Tories got 36.1% of the votes nationally but 47.1% of seats in parliament while the Lib Dems got 23% of the vote share but only 8.8% of seats.

This BBC ‘majority builder’ game helpfully, but unintentionally, illustrates how weighted towards the two main parties our current electoral system is: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/election-2015-32336071

Now – in Horsham, a safe Tory seat, Frances Maude won in 2010 with around 29,000 votes. The 2nd placed Lib Dem candidate had around 18,000. Around 22,000 didn’t vote. On the surface of it, it seems that if those people had voted the result could have been affected, because mathematically, that is possible.

But look deeper and that notion starts to look increasingly implausible.

In order to have affected the result in any way, at least half of those non-voters would not only have had to have voted, but they would have ALL have had to have voted Lib Dem. It is extremely unlikely that that percentage of such a large group would all support the Lib Dems and no other parties if forced to choose. So they would also all have had to have decided to vote tactically just to keep the Tories out. That is a completely improbable outcome, given that 18,000 people already had voted Lib Dem, many of whom will probably have voted tactically also.

This situation is mirrored in over 300 seats around the country, most of which are rendered safe Tory or Labour seats (+ a comparative handful of safe Lib Dem, SNP & Plaid Cymru ones) by virtue of the FPTP voting system which, remember, renders the vast majority of seats a two horse race with all other parties completely redundant.

Think about it. It is simply not realistic to believe that just because getting more people to vote could mathematically cause an upset at an election that it actually will. It’s nowhere near as simple as that. It is wishful thinking to believe otherwise.

To believe that the problem with our ‘democracy’ can be solved by more people voting is to fundamentally misunderstand this problem. The problem is that our system ISN’T a democracy in the first place. The system is designed in such a way as to ensure two party hegemony at all times, even in the age of coalitions, as the voting system still ensures that the two main parties have way more seats than all their potential coalition partners put together, so one of them will always call the shots even in a coalition government.

For this reason, either Labour or the Tories are the only parties that can ever wield any real power in the UK as things stand, no other outcome is possible. That’s not my opinion, it is the stark reality that reveals itself when you really look into what’s going on and how this system works.

To think this paradigm can be changed by further legitimising and endorsing it is pure delusion. The paradigm needs to change first. The logical starting point for that is to get a functioning ‪#‎NoneOfTheAbove‬ option on ballot papers in the first instance and then use the newly levelled playing field to push for further reform. Seriously – how else is that going to happen?!

And to those who try to claim that coming at the problem from this angle is negative, I say this: is it positive or negative to delude oneself as to the true extent and nature of a problem? Is it positive or negative to have fully understood a problem and exhausted all other possibilities before settling on a workable and achievable solution?

Take as long as you need.

Jamie Stanley
NOTA UK
18/04/15

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2 thoughts on “Problem, Reaction, Solution: Why understandable efforts to boost voter turnout miss the point

  1. […] to introduce reforms that are seen as desirable only and not 100% essential. (More on that here: https://nota-uk.org/2015/04/18/problem-reaction-solution-why-understandable-efforts-to-encourage-high… […]

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  2. […] to ensure that no meaningful change of the guard can ever take place. I have written at length elsewhere about why this is the case. In a nutshell, no matter how many people vote and no matter who they […]

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