ALEX NETTLE argues the best way to stop a no-deal Brexit is urgent reform to our constitution to give everyone a voice in parliament – and that means looking at proportional representation.
Those of us opposing no deal are facing the fight of our lives this week. The unprecedented power grab of proroguing parliament at this critical time by Boris Johnson has exposed the colossal flaws of our democratic system; unwritten constitutions are easily open to abuse. But this is not the sole glaring flaw in our democracy. The biggest is that we don’t live in one.
It seems clear that members of parties such as my own would want proportional representation, a straightforward system where the percentage of votes won matches the percentage of seats. Every vote genuinely counts, unlike first past the post where up to 70% of votes have no influence on the final result.
The struggle for a fair voting system has been marred up to now by bigger parties refusing to change an electoral system that disproportionately favours them. But at this crucial juncture in our country’s history, we need to demonstrate how first past the post itself is a catalyst for no deal Brexit.
Under currently polling the Conservatives are sitting on about 33% to Labour’s 25%. Due to the absurdities of first past the post this result would see 33% per cent of the vote translating to roughly 55% of the seats. And this time those Tory rebels who are opposing no deal wouldn’t be there to threaten their majority if Johnson’s party purge is more than an empty threat. Crucially, this disproportionate and unfair result would mean no deal Brexit would be guaranteed all without genuine public backing.
And so as a major priority anti-no deal MPs should be looking to seize the agenda in the Commons, as they are, and use this time to table a Bill for altering the electoral system. This way if current polling is anyway near accurate these parties opposed to no deal can fight an election fairly without electoral alliances (which all current activity suggests is doomed to fail to get off the ground) and win a majority between them.
The first group that need to be convinced are the Tory rebels who are currently being threatened with deselection by the increasingly hard-right purist government. Facing a decision between prioritising their principles or their job security first past the post pushes them towards backing the government. But under proportional representation they would be much freer to form an alternative Conservative movement that opposes no deal and boosts their electoral chances, free from a hard-line Johnson whip. You might point to Change UK’s failure to win a single seat in the European elections as a reason to be cautious, but they still secured 3.3% of the vote. Replicated under a PR general election this result would have won them 21 seats.
For the Labour leadership the question is a different one. Labour’s political history has shown them benefit time and time again from first past the post, squeezing out smaller parties to help them win. But a 2019 election shows no sign of doing so again. This election is a contest not of who can win the most votes but who succeeds in losing the fewest. The Conservatives are at risk from the Brexit Party but with Johnson at the helm the relevance of the Brexit Party is waning. Labour on the other hand are fighting on multiple fronts from the Lib Dems, SNP, Plaid Cymru and of course the Green Party, buoyed by other issues including a growing public awareness of the climate crisis. In 2017 Labour relied on a strong campaign to reverse their low polling fortunes. But a lot has happened since then and they cannot simply rely on a campaign boost again. The threats from other parties are much more significant now.
As we reach a point of desperation and mad scrambling for the advantage between Brexiteers and anti-no dealers it has become clear that a FPTP general election could result in a small number of voters holding huge amount of power over the final result, and thus over Brexit. Proportional representation is the only way to guarantee that an election will not play out like this. The need for proportional representation has never been greater.
– Alex Nettle, Non-Portfolio Officer for the Young Greens and Prospective Parliamentary Candidate for Birmingham Ladywood