This illustrates how crazy our election voting system is

THE clocks have changed. It’ll be brighter tonight. The year moves inexorably forward towards the coming General Election.

Elections ought to be moments of change. A point in history where power transfers from one group to another, where ideas are won and the direction of a country changes. Exciting even.

But looking south across the Border to the contest between the main Westminster parties, it seems anything but exciting. It is almost impossible for Labour not to win in England. Yet you would be hard-placed to find too many citizens animated or enthusiastic about it.

In part, this is down to a deliberate ploy by the Labour leadership to promise nothing and say less. The main opposition party are seeking election precisely on the basis of not changing the incumbent Tory Party’s overall economic framework. That can only mean that the people who are being excluded and denied by the current system will continue to lose out.

For them, the election will change nothing. Indeed, that will be the case for most of us. It is hard to detect any serious difference between the two main parties.

Now, many people – and I probably include myself – believe through instinct or hope that Labour have to be better than the Tories. But in truth ,when you compare the stated policies of the parties, it is hard to make that claim. In areas such as pensions, the Tories even appear to be rather more committed to the welfare state than their opposition.

This grubby, uninspiring contest we have to look forward to is the product of wilful actions by political leaders, but their approach is enabled – even perhaps necessitated – by a ridiculous electoral system designed to ignore rather than resolve political differences.

First-past-the-post might be okay where a binary choice is to be made, but in any other context is simply not fit for purpose. It is deliberately designed to ensure that those elected are required neither to have majority support nor to represent a plurality of opinion. In the great majority of parliamentary seats, the winner represents only a minority of the voters who cast their vote.

When these results are aggregated to a state level, the distortion exaggerates. The first dislocation of results from the electorate allows political parties to form majority governments with the support of much less than half of the electorate – or at least those in the electorate who can be bothered voting.

In 2015, David Cameron won a majority of seats in the House of Commons with just under 37% of the vote. On that basis, he gave us Brexit. Shocking? Undemocratic? For sure, but nothing new.

Ten years previously, one Tony Blair got an even bigger majority with close to 35% of the votes cast.

Perhaps the most grotesque distortion of first-past-the-post is in what happens when third or fourth parties do well. Far from seeing smaller parties get some minimal increase in their representation, the system just inflicts lethal damage on the party they have taken support from. This is because the winner doesn’t need a majority; just more than the person who comes second.

The are various websites where you can play til your heart’s content by predicting the outcome of the election assuming varying levels of support for each party. You plop in the vote share and press a button.

I try not to spend too much time on this but for the current purposes and to illustrate how crazy the system is, I ran this little exercise (It’s just for England and Wales).

Let’s assume Labour can get about 43% of the votes cast at the next election, the Tories 10 points behind on 33%, LibDems on just under 10% and Reform and Greens on five each.

That’s assuming a much smaller gap between Labour and Tory than has been the case for over two years now. But it sounds sort of plausible, I think. That split would produce a Labour government with an 120-seat majority.

Now, what happens if Labour support stays exactly as it is, but some Tories switch to Reform UK – which they are currently telling pollsters they will do in their legions? If 5% switch and the Reform UK vote goes up to 10%, the Labour majority rises to 188. If a further 5% switch, then the Labour majority goes up to 274 and the Tories are left with 100 seats.

There’s a point at which the changes become almost exponential, and seats start changing hands in droves without the winning party having to do anything at all. This is the sort of thing that gives democracy a bad name.

But if the distorted results weren’t already sufficient corruption of the electorate’s will, the first past-the-post-system conspires in other ways to undermine the expression and resolution of political differences. By its nature, the system requires the winner not to have majority support but to be the biggest minority.

That means it requires parties to form broad alliances of opinion to get levels of support above a third. In itself, this means that differences are resolved within parties rather than being matters for the general citizenry. Sometimes this leaves a party completely at odds with its own supporters, never mind the electorate as a whole.

Such is the case with Labour and Brexit where the party will not even contemplate returning to Europe even though this is the expressed wish of the overwhelming majority of their own supporters.

It cannot be healthy for democracy that not a single major UK party will commit to reviewing and reversing Brexit when this is what half of the population wants.

The toxicity of first-past-the-post for democracy intensifies as parties rooted in the centre-right or centre-left fight for the support of the same bunch of voters in the middle.

By definition, these voters will be paid more attention than those whose support is already in the bag, and by definition, this group of voters will desire a lesser degree of change than the rest.

he result is a set of less than inspiring polices and a whole lot of people well upset about that but unable to do anything about it. It’s little wonder many people will tell you: “They’re all the same.”

This frustration, the feeling of being unrepresented, festers and is destroying what passes for democracy. In England, Labour will win the next election, I’m sure. But it will be won by promising Tories they are in safe hands, by seriously alienating many traditional Labour voters, and with a huge level of frustrated abstainers.

It’s a weak base for governing and could end in disaster in a very small number of years.

Now, of course, we should note that the Labour Party at their last two conferences made commitments – by very big margins – to change the current electorate system.

But as if to illustrate exactly the problem, no sooner had these votes been called than Sir Keir and his entourage were insisting there would be no change.

The SNP support a proportional voting system where the results reflect the votes cast by the people. Given a chance, that’s what we will vote for, but in truth, the condition of parliamentary democracy in England is hardly our bailiwick and nothing is going to change until Labour say so.

Sadly, I can’t see that happening any time soon.

And in this – as in so much else – the aspirations of people who live here will be better served by Scotland becoming a new independent state with a proper functioning democracy enshrined in a written constitution.