It’s been a busy couple of weeks for electoral reformers in Cambridgeshire. Activists from campaign group Make Votes Matter have been spreading the word at events in Cambridge and St Neots.
The cross-party movement aims to raise support for Proportional Representation (PR) to be used to elect MPs. Make Votes Matter campaigners were at Cambridge’s Mill Road Saturday market on 4 December. A week later they made a visit to St Neots Market.
Campaigners used ‘democrometers’
In St Neots, Town Councillor Christine Green and South Cambs District Councillor Ian Sollom joined the campaigners. They used portable “Democrometers” to poll how local people feel about the state of democracy in the UK. The interactive boards asked a series of questions, and required members of the public to place coloured dots next to the answers they favoured. They found that most locals support the UK moving from our current First Past the Post electoral system for MPs to a system of Proportional Representation.
Local resident and Make Votes Matter campaigner Lara Davenport-Ray was ‘delighted’ by the favourable response from St Neots locals to the idea of electoral reform. “It’s time we had a proportional voting system where votes have equal weight no matter where in the country they are cast. Voters want the make-up of Parliament to better reflect how people voted and the full diversity of our dynamic society.”
Safe seats leads to complacency
Lara points out that our current system creates ‘safe seats’ that haven’t changed party for decades. This frequently results in sitting MPs failing to respond to letters or hold regular surgeries. This leaves constituents feeling they are being taken for granted. “The residents that we polled overwhelmingly want to move to a PR voting system which makes it easier for voters to hold MPs to account.”
As previous articles published by East Anglia Bylines have explained, the UK’s current First Past the Post voting system denies millions of people a voice in Parliament. It creates a situation where votes in some parts of the UK have more weight than others. First Past the Post distorts democratic representation. It does this by giving the “winning” party all the political power, even if far less than half the electorate votes for their candidates.
Current voting system deprives people of choice
Cambridge resident Paul Browne, who took part in both the St Neots and Cambridge Make Votes Matter events, added:
People we spoke with in St Neots and Cambridge agreed that the First Past the Post voting system – with its safe seats and blue and red walls – deprives voters of real choice and has helped create a situation where some MPs feel they can get away with anything.
We desperately need more accountability in Government, but instead we see the opposite. With weakening of judicial review, criminalisation of peaceful protest, control over the Electoral Commission and plans to replace the current Supplementary Vote system for Mayoral and Police and Crime Commissioner elections with First Past the Post, the current Government is actively weakening the tools that citizens have to hold them to account. They can do this because First Past the Post voting gave them 56% of the seats in Parliament despite the fact that they only received 44% of the votes.
The people of the UK deserve better than this. We call on all opposition parties, and members of the governing party who truly believe in democracy and accountability, to commit to introducing Proportional Representation for UK Parliamentary elections at the earliest opportunity.”
Electoral reform is going backwards
In addition to their portable polls, campaigners handed out leaflets giving more information about Make Votes Matter. They also gave away Christmas cards for people to send to their MP or to friends and family members.
The Elections Bill is currently being debated in Parliament. It proposes to change the Supplementary Vote system — a form of PR — used for both future regional mayoral and Police and Crime Commissioner elections to First Past the Post. This would make the results of these elections less representative of voters’ views.