If you live in England or Wales, the UK Government is trying to force you to use First Past the Post more often. It’s a broken voting system, and they want to impose it on you every time you vote for directly-elected mayors or Police and Crime Commissioners.

In pushing through this outdated voting system, the Government has had to rely on grossly misleading claims. It’s time to set the record straight. Here’s what you need to know about First Past the Post.

Wasted votes are a core feature of First Past the Post

The Government has dressed up these changes with a new-found commitment to reduce “wasted votes”. But First Past the Post is the king of wasted votes. If you live in a safe seat, then the hard truth is that those in power just don’t care about winning your vote nearly as much as they care about those swing voters in marginal seats.

So the millions of us who vote for losing candidates are ignored, as are the millions of us who just troop to the polling station and add our votes to a winning candidate’s already giant majority.

Under First Past the Post, millions of votes are effectively wasted. In fact, over 7 in 10 voters at the last general election could have voted for themselves or turned their ballot into a paper aeroplane, and it wouldn’t have changed one seat in the House of Commons. If you want to reduce wasted votes, you really don’t want First Past the Post.

71 Percent of Votes Wasted at the 2019 General Election by First Past the Post.png

First Past the Post is the anomaly

Conservative MP Luke Hall claimed that by replacing the current mayoral voting system with First Past the Post, they were removing an “anomaly”.

Here is a complete list of every single European country that uses First Past the Post for their national parliament:

  • The United Kingdom

  • Belarus (a repressive brutal dictatorship)

We think it’s safe to say that First Past the Post is the anomaly.

“Britain’s national electoral system”?

Former Minister for the Constitution Chloe Smith called First Past the Post “Britain’s national electoral system”. Let’s just take a look at the electoral systems used in the UK, shall we?

By the way, the proportional system used in the Scottish Parliament has been key to ensuring that Conservative voters in Scotland get the representation that they deserve. That’s exactly as it should be, and it’s time for that basic right to be enjoyed by all voters in every part of the UK.

First Past the Post makes it harder to kick out certain politicians

Cambridgeshire and Peterborough 2021 pie charts.png

If the public decides that they aren’t happy with the performance of a mayor or Police and Crime Commissioner, ideally they should be able to kick them out at the next election. But First Past the Post has other ideas.

Just take a look at this year’s metro mayor election in Cambridgeshire and Peterborough. A majority of voters wanted an alternative to the outgoing mayor. Without First Past the Post, they were able to replace him with their preferred alternative. But if the Government gets their way, the next time that this happens, that outgoing mayor would still be in power, just because there was more than one popular opposition candidate.

How does that make anyone more accountable?

First Past the Post doesn’t allow voters to express a clear choice

Are you voting for something or against something? Every election (if you’re one of the lucky voters to live in a marginal seat) you probably get flooded with appeals to vote for a candidate not because of their positive vision, but because they can “keep the other ones out”, or because “only we can win here”.

So if a candidate receives a certain number of votes, does that mean that those voters are endorsing that candidate, or just saying that they dislike another candidate even more? With First Past the Post, we never know.

They’re blaming the voting system for bad ballot paper design

Some First Past the Post supporters are trying to mislead people into thinking that mayoral elections have a huge number of spoilt ballots, by cherry-picking the 2021 London Mayor election. That election had a record 20 candidates, and the returning officer used a new and poorly-designed ballot paper layout to try to fit them all in. People were confused by the bad ballot paper design, so there were a larger than usual number of spoilt ballots.

Places like Greater Manchester and the West Midlands held mayoral elections on the same day, using the same voting system as London, but with standard ballot paper designs. They had less than half the rate of spoilt ballots that London had. The rate of spoilt ballots in the 2016 London mayoral election was also less than half of what it was in 2021.

If the problem was the voting system, we’d expect to see high numbers of spoilt ballots across all areas and times. But because London was unusually high and other areas weren’t, the obvious culprit is the unique ballot paper design that was only used in London.

On the other hand, if the Government’s aim is genuinely to get as many eligible people as possible to cast valid votes, they should look at Proportional Representation. Studies have shown that it boosts voter turnout, because more people vote when they have a vote that matters!

Proportional Representation boosts voter turnout.jpg

Is it a manifesto commitment?

In 2017, the Conservative Party promised this specific democratic downgrade in their manifesto. They didn’t win a majority, and it never happened.

In 2019, their manifesto was much more vague, with a general commitment to “continue to support the First Past the Post system of voting”.

Now, the Government are claiming that they must bring in this change in order to fulfil their 2019 manifesto commitments.

Does this count as a manifesto commitment? While there are arguments either way, one thing is clear. If the Conservatives are happy to classify this as a manifesto commitment, they certainly wouldn’t have any grounds to complain if a future Government scrapped First Past the Post with a similarly vague manifesto promise.

Churchill on Proportional Representation

Our current Prime Minister is known to be a fan of Winston Churchill, and the Government quoted Churchill in their announcement. They’ve found this one-liner from a speech that he gave in 1931, where he blasted the Alternative Vote (which is not a form of Proportional Representation). But here’s the part of the very same speech that the Government didn’t mention:

“Having to choose, as we shall have to choose if we are to redress the constitutional injustice, between the Alternative Vote, the Second Ballot and Proportional Representation in the cities, I have no doubt whatever that the last is incomparably the fairest, the most scientific and, on the whole, the best in the public interest.” - Winston Churchill

“Having to choose, as we shall have to choose if we are to redress the constitutional injustice, between the Alternative Vote, the Second Ballot and Proportional Representation in the cities, I have no doubt whatever that the last is incomparably the fairest, the most scientific and, on the whole, the best in the public interest.” – Winston Churchill

Do something about it – let’s end First Past the Post!

At the last general election, 14 million of us voted for our current Government. But 18 million of us voted for something else. The only reason that the current Government has all of the power is because Britain counts its votes in an outdated and undemocratic way.

And now the Government is spreading more First Past the Post, using the unfair power that they have in the first place because of First Past the Post.

Make Votes Matter is a movement of thousands of people who believe that this is wrong. We come from every part of the UK and every corner of the political spectrum, but we unite around this simple demand: First Past the Post has got to go. It’s time for Proportional Representation.

Do you think that we need less First Past the Post, not more? If so, sign the petition and join Make Votes Matter now!