The Green Party is a great illustration of how much UK politics is shaped by First Past the Post. Corbyn supporters tell us that the country has been crying out for an anti-establishment, left-wing alternative for years. But the Greens have been pushing that message for decades. Yes they disagree on some policy areas, especially on Brexit, but Corbyn’s political ideology is pretty much identical to theirs.
The Greens got only 4% of the national vote in 2015 though. And the latest Britain Elects poll which has Labour at 45% has the Green Party at just 1%. Why will people support Jeremy Corbyn when they didn’t support the Greens?
The truth is that the Green Party, and other small parties like ourselves, face obstacles which Labour and the Tories don’t. They are trapped as an outsider in a two-party system, where their votes count for less, their message is muted, and they are seen as a wasted vote. We’ve come to accept this sort of thing as normal – but it makes a sham of our democracy. How can we justify a system which is so structurally biased, that two parties can give almost the exact same pitch to the people, and one is seen as a revolution, while the other is seen as an irrelevance?
There are many ways which our political system favours the two main parties – but the first and foremost is First Past the Post. We need Proportional Representation to make all votes count the same, and allow the ideas of smaller parties to be treated more equally. Many progressives support Proportional Representation – even Labour MPs who it would directly disadvantage. But many of them are apathetic, and don’t see electoral reform as a priority. Yes the voting system is unfair, they say, but what about schools and hospitals? What about Brexit and Trump and inequality and the environment. Besides – normal people don’t care about voting reform. Why should we make it a priority when the electorate don’t care?
This sort of apathy is the antithesis of change. First Past the Post is shaping our democracy, and with it – the legitimacy of every decision which each Government makes. Challenging it should be a priority – always – regardless of what else is going on in politics. Public opinion will not shift if the issue is never discussed. This system is hamstringing our party and mocking our democracy. If it keeps languishing at the bottom end of our activists’ list of priorities, then it will never change.
* Ben Andrew works as the Development officer for the Liberal Democrats in Sutton. He is in charge of organising events, fundraising, and energizing volunteers in the local party. He has been a member since the 2015 election, and is particularly motivated by Electoral Reform, Mental Health and Criminal Justice.