‘…democracy is a universal value based on the freely expressed will of people to determine their own political, economic, social and cultural systems and their full participation in all aspects of their lives.’

This statement was taken from the resolution adopted by the UN General Assembly on the 8th November 2007, establishing the celebration of International Day of Democracy on the 15th September each year. 

COVID-19 has now impacted pretty much every area of our lives, including the way we interact with our governments and elected officials. Whilst restrictions on our movements and freedoms have undoubtedly been necessary to control the virus, some governments have used this as an excuse to quash any opposition, meaning that the above statement for many people is now under more threat than it would have been without a pandemic. According to Freedom House, the number of countries classed as ‘Not Free’ is the highest it has been in 15 years, with India, the world’s largest democracy by population, being downgraded to ‘partly free’ thanks to Prime Minister Modi’s crackdown on critics and a dangerously inept COVID response. All over the world, governments obscured information about the outbreak and spread misleading and false information. This resulted in panic, confusion, inadequate protections and ultimately grief, pain and a much higher death toll. 

The UK government’s response to the outbreak was clearly far from perfect, but local elections took place, Parliament sat and the government was still held to account, thanks to MPs and peers being able to participate virtually. But does that mean we are truly, fully democratic, if democracy is based on ‘the freely expressed will of the people’ with their ‘full participation’?, For too many in the UK expressing their will has little to no effect, thanks to First Past the Post. In 2019, 71.2% of votes cast in the General Election were wasted and did not affect the outcome in the slightest. Unsurprisingly, this means that fewer and fewer people want to participate. In 2019, only 67.3% of those eligible cast their vote, and globally, turnout for PR elections is on average 5-8% higher than for FPTP elections.

Ironically, today is the day that the Government has chosen to announce that elections using Supplementary Vote (such as for mayors and police and crime commissioners) will change to using FPTP as part of the Elections Bill currently going through Parliament. These changes were first suggested by Priti Patel back in March, and our opinion hasn’t changed since then

The impact that FPTP has on voter apathy should not be underestimated. Why would you bother turning up to the polling station if you have lived in a safe seat your entire life and have never once been represented by a candidate you actually voted for? 

Thankfully a step towards change could be just around the corner, as PR is set to be debated and potentially adopted as policy at next week’s Labour Party conference, after almost half of all Constituency Labour Parties backed the move and at least 144 have sent PR motions to the conference. For those of us unaware of the Labour’s internal mechanisms, Labour Party members in each constituency have the chance to send one motion to the conference that they wish to be debated, and 144 is a higher number of motions on a single issue than anything in recent conference history. 

PR is not going to magically fix all the problems this country faces. It isn’t going to automatically make men and women in our society equal, give us the fully funded NHS that we all want and deserve, or immediately make the gap between rich and poor disappear. But a lot of us, including a majority of Labour members and voters, think that those outcomes can’t be fully achieved without it.