By Fiona Grahame
In the UK our General Elections are fought on a ‘First Past The Post’ system (FPTP). Whilst this is an extremely simple method whereby the voter puts a cross in one box, it often results in the person being elected as an MP not actually representative of the views of their constituents. This means an MP can be elected even though the majority of their constituents would not have chosen them.
Since 1922 men and women in the UK have had the same electoral rights. Universal suffrage was extremely hard won and some people died in the fight to gain those rights.
For citizens the most powerful tool you have is your vote – even in a FPTP system. The fact that it took so long to gain voting rights and how the powerful resisted it, is an indication of how effective using your vote can be.
A General Election is to take place on Thursday 12th of December. Already hundreds of thousands of people have registered to vote who were not on the electoral roll. The public are keen to vote even though we are all wearied by the chaos of Brexit and General Elections in 2015 and 2017.
Some political parties are keen to make election pacts. This is where one party agrees not to stand in a particular constituency so that another one has a better chance of winning – not a certainty of winning – but more favourable odds.
Now why this may be of great benefit to a political party and their candidate it removes from the elector,choice. The voter is deprived from making their selection based on informed choice. Political parties who do this remove the option for a citizen to decide for themselves who they would like to vote for.
The Orkney News publishes articles from a wide range of people and we provide links so that our readers can make up their own minds about issues. It is one of our founding principles. When voter choice at an election is restricted it will have the following outcomes: the voter ‘holds their nose’ and reluctantly votes for a candidate they do not actually want representing them; the voter spoils their ballot paper ; the voter stays at home.
In Orkney and Shetland, the constituency I live in, it used to be said that the Liberal votes (now Liberal Democrats) could be weighed rather than counted such was the dominance they had in the islands. In 1859 the Northern Isles elected its first Liberal MP – and with the exception of 1935 (Conservative) has continued to do so.
Despite this other political parties continue to stand candidates even though the likelihood of them winning is slight. There are people who think parties shouldn’t stand if there is no possibility of them winning. Indeed there were times in the past when the General Election was uncontested in Orkney and Shetland. When that happens a candidate automatically becomes an MP – no need to explain anything to the electorate or justify why they should be the MP – they just walk in.
It also means that people are given no opportunity to register officially what parties’ policies they support – they have essentially been disenfranchised. Not only have they been deprived of a vote but discussion of policies and issues has been shut down.
An election is the opportunity for citizens to hold politicians to account.
I have voted now in 10 General Elections – the candidate I have voted for has never won – that was not my fault by the way. Even with a different system – a more proportional system – they still would most likely not have won. And yet I will never stop voting at a General Election – or any other election.
Political parties who enter into election pacts knowing that they are depriving citizens of making their own informed choice are further weakening the democratic process.
In the 2017 Brecon and Radnorshire General Election the Conservatives won comfortably with 48.6% of the vote over their nearest rival the Liberal Democrats on 29.1%. Labour had 17.7% and losing their deposits Plaid Cymru 3.1% and UKIP 1.4%. The turnout was a respectable 73.8%.
Then in August of this year there was a By-Election.
Plaid Cymru and the Greens agreed with the LibDems that they would not stand – it was a ‘Remain’ pact. The Liberal Democrats took the seat on 43.4% of the vote. The Conservatives came in at 38.98% and the Brexit Party 10.4%. Labour still stood but were reduced to 5.28%. The turnout was also reduced to 59.6%. 9,520 people less voted.
You could say, quite correctly, that the LibDem strategy to take a seat which they had previously held and which they lost in 2015 and 2017 was a great result for them. And they made a great deal out of it quickly forgetting that 2 other parties had agreed not to stand to give them a free run.
What did it mean for the 2 other parties who stood aside? Their issues were not part of the campaign, they had no candidates articulating their policies and importantly voters were deprived of choice. No wonder many stayed at home.
As ever our readers can make up their own minds. Political parties can win a seat in FPTP by entering into election pacts with other parties. Perhaps people feel this is a price they don’t mind paying ? Perhaps those who are deprived of the option of deciding for themselves who to vote for feel it is too dear a price? Whichever way you look at it the individual citizen loses the freedom to choose and to express in the only official way they have the policies which they support.
“If you can’t put your values, into your vote, we don’t have a democracy.” Jill Stein
Click here to: Register to Vote