15 49.0138 8.38624 none none 5000 1 fade http://www.smithsmagazine.co.uk 250 10

Goldsmiths' Official Student Magazine

The Error is in the System

1 June 2017
Marie Segger scrutinises the electoral system and explains why the UK should look to Germany rather than to the US.

I know what you must be thinking: ‘not another German telling us what to do’ and, while I can’t rebuff that thought, please hear me out. Democracies come in many different shapes and sizes and nature has it that, in the United Kingdom, about half of the votes cast in a general election won’t count.

As a result, vote-swapping websites have recently sprung up like mushrooms. Many of my university friends are sharing a certain Google spreadsheet, calling for others to “vote tactically,” yet, I cannot help but wonder: what has this nation come to if its electorate has to analyse a spreadsheet to figure out how to make each vote count?

Unlike Germany, which uses Mixed Member Proportional Representation (PR), the UK relies on the First Past the Post (FPTP) method. Sounds complicated? Well, you haven’t heard half of it.

Simply put, in the UK only the votes that go to the winning candidate count, whereas in Germany more or less every vote counts (that is, if the party gets more than 5% of the votes it counts). This means that each of the winning candidates in German constituencies get a seat but, after that, the votes of the parties are added up, and the other parties receive additional seats proportional to the percentage of votes they won. In 2015 the Greens won more than 1 million votes and yet only got a single seat in the UK.

Not too long ago, in 2011 the people of the UK got their chance to change their voting system: the government held a referendum, but the British public rejected the Alternative Vote by 67.9%. However, as data from 2015 shows, 51% of the population remain ‘unhappy with the current electoral system and want it to change’ in contrast to just 28% who prefer the status quo.

Like PR, FPTP comes with as many advantages as it has disadvantages. The two systems are the most popular electoral systems in the world and probably rightly so. So why should the UK have to change their system? Even though both systems are widespread, no country has adopted the FPTP system in recent times, and countries such as Australia, New Zealand, and most developed European countries abandoned it in favour for a more representational approach decades ago.

However, as my mum would say, ‘if one of your friends jumped from a window, would you do it too? Well, not before doing my research.

The main criticism of Germany’s PR system is that it almost inevitably leads to a multi-party coalition and, in Germany, annoyance at the prospect of yet another grand alliance between Merkel’s CDU and Schulz’ SPD is palpable.

The claim that the electorate vote for a single party rather than a coalition is only half true. For smaller parties, a coalition is their only hope and, by voting for them you are inevitably voting for a mixed government.

The Greens are a lot more popular in Germany than in the UK, and this is because other parties cannot steal their voters with watered-down promises and accuse the electorate of ‘wasting votes’ on small parties unable to win seats.

The problem with the UK’s electoral system is that the party that wins the popular vote does not necessarily get to govern the country (as happened in the 1974 election, where Labour won more seats than the Tories with fewer votes). Such discrepancies make the UK voting system somewhat similar to the Electoral College system in the US.

Both systems mean that governments can almost entirely ignore safe states or seats, making votes in these areas more or less redundant. While this makes sense in a vast country like the US where some regions would be able to choose the fate of the whole country due to their high number of inhabitants, this is hardly applicable to the UK.

I know y’all stare longingly across the pond after that short-lived May and Trump romance, especially after you left the continent to your right behind but, please UK, don’t stick with the American way but look to your friends on the continent.

Marie Segger

P.S. Vote LABOUR (ed. I kept this in, idgaf)