Is electoral reform the last thing we need?

The last thing we need is electoral reform because we need to think and work in a sequence which results in genuine electoral reform.

The word “genuine” is included because Neo-Liberals, their fellow travellers and their “useful ill-informeds” use the word to describe financial and economic changes which are to the detriment of the general public.

To quote economist Michael Hudson:

The IMF (International Monetary Fund) and kindred Washington consensus bodies demand labour market “reforms” that would reverse the 20th century workplace reforms. The word “reform” is now attached to any policy as an advertising slogan.

A possible genuine electoral reform progression is one that includes: awareness, analysis, rooftop-shouting, and prominent persistent activity and action so that genuine electoral reform is made to happen.

The Electoral Reform Society (ERS) reports that in the 2019 General Election “over 22.6 million votes (70.8%) did not contribute to electing an MP”. Thus, the votes of 70+% of citizens were irrelevant to the election of the current government.

In that election, the seat to votes ratio was: Conservatives 1 for 38,264; Labour 1 for 50,837; SNP 1 for 25,883; Lib-Dem 1 for 336,038 and Green 1 for 866,435.

The ERS Report provides a Proportional Representation (PR) scenario:
Conservatives 288 seats (-77 from First Past The Post (FPTP))
Labour 216 (+13)
Lib Dems 70 (+59)
Greens 12 (+11)
Brexit Party 11 (+11 from 0)
SNP 28 (-15)

Mixed Member Proportional Representation (MMP/AMP) would have cost Conservatives 81 seats, mostly to benefit Lib Dems and Greens.

Single Transferable Voting (STV) would have seen the Conservatives with 53 fewer seats and the SNP with 18 fewer.

A typical proportional voting system will give a Deviation from Proportionality (DV) score of 5-8%.
DV by UK/constituent nation:
UK – 16%
Scotland – 36.4%
Northern Ireland – 30%
England – 17.5%

In the 2019 election, the Conservatives got 43.6% of votes and 56.2% of seats (+12.6%) (UK).
Labour got 32.1% of votes and 31.1% of seats.
SNP got 3.9% of U. K votes and 7.4% of seats. In, Scotland only, they got 45% of votes and 81% of seats.

The UK is the only country in Europe using FPTP.

Of 650 seats in the House of Commons, 316 are “safe”. Before the 2019 election, the average UK constituency had not changed hands for 42 years, with 192 seats (30%) last changing party in 1945, or earlier, and 65 seats (10%) being held by the same party for more than a century.

Registered donations to political parties for the 2019 General Election campaign were:
Conservatives – £19.4 million
Labour – £5.4 million
The Brexit Party – £4.2 million
Liberal Democrats – £1.3 million
Green Party – £0.2 million
Other Parties – £0.3 million
(House of Commons Library)

This analysis alone shows that our democracy is specious.

More analysis, persistent roof-top-shouting, activity and action please!

* Steve Trevathan is chairperson of Lyme Regis and Marshwood Vale Liberal Democrats.

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • John Marriott 18th Aug '20 - 12:09pm

    No, it’s the FIRST thing you need if any minority party is to achieve the representation commensurate with its electoral support. How do you get it? You win more seats. How do you do that under FPTP? With a lot of hard work, targeting and a lot of luck, in other words, with great difficulty.

  • Thanks for this information summarising the current electoral situation. Note that Labour would not have gained from proportional representation in 2019, so I hope they say that is due to Corbyn leadership, otherwise it could prevent them considering the change we are calling for. Are we going to make this information more widely known ?

  • If getting more seats is with great difficulty a position has to be engineered to allow us and the voter to aim for change. At the moment I can only see that as banging the drum loudly whenever and wherever we can with the info above.The right wing press who may laugh at are efforts will still print it humourusly.Even that can get people thinking.
    Why should the Tories fear PR? They will still be the majority party

  • George Thomas 18th Aug '20 - 2:11pm

    Given that the Electoral Reform Society’s website grades STV as better when measured across i) proportionality, ii) voter choice and iii) local representation, may I ask if PR is still the voting system of choice to improve things? A recent Labour survey showed 75% in favour of PR but is that just because it’s a system the public have heard about in conversations about making voting systems fairer? STV is already used in Scotland at local level, Northern Ireland and internally in Labour whereas PR not used in UK at all(?) so in one theory STV is a better voter system and we already have examples of how to make it work in the UK. I would classify this under the “analysis” part of your journey.

  • Paul Barker 18th Aug '20 - 2:36pm

    I dont see the point of this article.
    Why should we allow our enemies to steal the word “Reform” ?

  • Simon McGrath 18th Aug '20 - 3:13pm

    what is the point of this article , apart from (just like his last 3 articles ) the author wants to tell us he doesn’t like ‘neo liberalism ‘ a phrase he appears to think means ‘ things i don’t like ‘

  • Daniel Walker 18th Aug '20 - 3:47pm

    @George Thomas “STV is already used in Scotland at local level, Northern Ireland and internally in Labour whereas PR not used in UK at all(?) ”

    STV (with constituencies returning more than 4 members) is broadly proportional, and Additional Member System PR is used for the Scottish Parliament, London Assembly, and for the Senedd in Wales, (and LibDem internal elections) so we do use PR in the UK.

    As far as I know “pure PR” (i.e. one constituency for the whole country, votes by party) is only used in Israel, and previously by the Weimar Republic.

    The Electoral Reform Society has a good summary of the basic categories.

  • I agree with the comments here that this article makes no sense:
    Let’s just carry on using the meaning that is normally taken, so:
    “Reform” simply means to make changes.
    “Electoral Reform” means to make changes to the electoral system. You’d then need to go on and say what changes you were talking about, eg proportional representation.
    “Genuine” like “real” etc isn’t usually a helpful word to use as it’s too subjective.
    I agree with the 1st comment. Electoral reform is the FIRST thing to happen and by Electoral Reform we mean dumping FPTP for Proportional representation (either AMS or STV).
    @ Nigel Jones. Labour got less seats than votes so would probably have benefitted from PR in the 2019 election depending on which system is used. The more pertinent issue for Labour is how they expect to get Starmer in to No 10 in 2024. Electoral reform is important to Labour members but not Labour leaders but they will probably have to eventually choose between the SNP or LD/greens for assistance. Let’s hope it’s the latter!

  • There is not much point in quoting notional outcomes for STV elections without stating how many members per constituency are assumed. It just so happens that the best system quoted appears to give a better result for the conservatives which is unfortunate but might make them more capable of seeing its virtues. In any case once STV is introduced and once it is generally understood rational people will change the way they vote accordingly and we should put aside partisan interest and campaign the system that will produce the best democratic outcome.

  • P R was on the agenda of the Canadian Liberals, then they got power and it was dropped! Just saying.

  • I suspect that what Steve Trevethan’s article fears but don’t spell out is HOW electoral reform could be hijacked by right wing nationalists (i.e. today’s Conservative party) by (a) retaining FPTP but reducing the number of MPs, (b) making alterations to the Barnett formula that has given Scotland more seats in Westminster and (c) requiring voter ID at polling stations and active voter registration that would likely reduce the electorate in metropolitan areas. They would call this ‘reform’ and so damage the brand of actual Electoral Reform by confusing it with keeping FPTP while effectively picking measures that would tend to boost the Conservative vote.
    If this is what the author fears and therefore goes on to argue that we should campaign and more loudly call for Electoral Reform to stop the potential hijacking of its meaning from the right, the article may be picked up by more by saying how the right would claim ‘reform’.
    Likewise, the article opens up with stating that it’s comparable to the right usurping the term ‘reform’ in an economic context, but then left this comparison hanging in the air to make it look like a subjective perspective. Instead, the article could have filled in this comparison more, by spelling out how economic ‘reform’ has over the past 4 decades come to mean reduction of state control and accountability towards invariably less public accountability and favouring the rich and powerful , unlike what social reform had represented over the preceding 200 years in giving greater wealth distribution , accountability of the wealthy and emancipation of the poorer masses, in the face of bloody revolution.
    In this sense, I agree with the article’s call to reclaim the mantle of Liberalism on what reform historically meant, and to help stem its continued erosion of meaning by the right.

  • Denis Loretto 19th Aug '20 - 10:53am

    This seems to be an attention-grabbing albeit rather silly title “Is electoral reform the last thing we need?” followed by a fairly conventional albeit valid justification for reform.
    More useful would be an examination of the type of reform which would radically improve the situation and – importantly – have a good chance of winning a referendum.
    Way back in 1998 Roy Jenkins (who I suspect would have liked to see STV) saw clearly the overwhelming attachment which the UK electorate has to the concept of single member constituencies and therefore recommended what he called AV-plus which was very close to the additiional member system subsequently adopted for the Scottish Parliament. Echoes of it are also found in the London Assembly elections.
    It was a tragedy that Tony Blair, buoyed up with the enormous majority which FPTP gifted him in 1997, shoved the Jenkins Report on to the shelf.
    In retrospect was this not the best answer – to the STV purists no doubt half a loaf but a heck of a lot better than no bread.

  • Steve Trevethan 19th Aug '20 - 11:02am

    Thanks to all who have joined this conversation!
    JM – Might it be worth a party with little direct power but some significant influence working to change attitudes of the public and other parties? Agreed that it is a long hard undertaking.
    NG – Energetically agreed that informed entertaining publicity is essential!
    nh – Energetically agreed! Is an important facet of our specious simulation of a democracy, the oligarchic control of the mainstream/corporate media?
    GT – Thank you for your helpful analysis. S. T. V. has much to commend it, including a spreading of voter interest, involvement and personal responsibility.
    PB – An “internal” purpose/reason is that the writer is concerned about the inefficiencies of our current system. An “external” purpose/reason is to try to do something about it. Alas, the word “Reform” has already been stolen/perverted and so might we do something about it?
    SMcG – Thank you for reading my last three articles! Here is another definition of Neo-liberalism: An ideology to absolve banks, landlords and monopolists from accusations of predatory behaviour. It loads the economy with exponential growth of debt while depicting it in a way that pretends that unregulated private operators will provide lower cost goods and services whilst extracting monopoly prices, debt charges and so on. [From M. Hudson]
    [Part 2 to follow!]

  • Steve Trevethan 19th Aug '20 - 11:40am

    Hello again!
    DW – Thank you for the information.
    R – Perhaps there are two parts to this article? The larger part aims to point out some shortcomings in our attempt at democracy. The other aims to show that the word “reform” no longer does what it used to. Words can and do change in their meanings and in their emotional impacts and so we need to address such changes. Bloom’s Taxonomy is a handy way of analysing words. Indeed, let’s hope Labour go towards LDs and Greens.
    JP – Thank you very much indeed for your point about going above the partisan and seeking the best democratic outcome.
    t – Interesting if disappointing information!
    THJ – Thank you for your support and analytical encouragement! The points you raise are most interesting and useful. Perhaps the comments on the article might go some way to address them?
    DL – Indeed, Mr Blair failed to use many of his opportunities to make our nation more efficient for the many and so fairer.

  • To anyone looking beyond the results, our democracy is far from specious, Steve. It stinks from top to bottom. From the lack of proportionality in elections to favours for cash and undue lobbying influence. I’m amazed anyone except those it serves can defend our present system.

  • A rather silly article.

    The big news from the last election should be the way that, when finally gifted significant amounts to spend on our election campaign, our party managed to spaff most of it up the wall, wasted on utterly futile and pointless (indeed often counter-productive) campaign literature.

    It is hard to avoid the conclusion that we did better when we had less money to spend.

  • Steve Trevethan 21st Aug '20 - 12:32pm

    Thanks again!
    Ph – An accurate and clear summary!
    I – Perhaps it might help if we (re)gained a reputation for relative political reliability?

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