Guest blog by Kieran Rayner.

8th November 2008, Wellington, New Zealand. I’m 18, and it’s my first election night – the first I’ve ever voted in, and the first in which I’ve taken a proper interest. I’m watching the results with my fellow student flatmates. I’m glued to the coverage, because I know my vote mattered – the minor party I voted for had enough support nationwide to win seats in parliament. And I helped make that happen. Regardless of the overall result, it felt like a win.

This was due to New Zealand’s proportional voting system, Mixed Member Proportional (MMP). The party I supported, despite not winning a majority in any individual constituency, won almost 7% of the national vote – hundreds of thousands of people. Under First Past the Post, none of those votes would have mattered, because they weren’t concentrated in one area. But thanks to PR, I became politically engaged – voting mattered to me, because I knew my voice would be heard.

Thanks to PR, I became politically engaged – voting mattered to me, because I knew my voice would be heard

New Zealand used to have FPTP like the UK, but switched to MMP after a referendum in 1993. You have two votes: one for your preferred local candidate, and one for your preferred party nationally. You can split these votes, and I often did: I gave my local vote to someone from a main party who had a bigger local presence, just like in the UK, and gave my national vote to the party that represented me best. Every voter understands this – giving two ticks is just as easy as giving one. And you don’t need to worry about tactical voting, or voting for your second-worst party to keep out the worst one. No misleading bar-chart ads. You just vote for the person and party you like best. Simple.

Any MP who wins a local seat is assigned one; the rest of the national seats are allocated so that each party’s share of seats matches their percentage of the party vote (for all parties that reached the 5% threshold). That way people get who they want to represent them locally, and the national parliament reflects as closely as possible the will of the country.

It is hard to overstate my disappointment after moving here: despite voting in three UK general elections in the space of 5 years (more than I ever thought!), voting in the safe constituencies where I lived felt pointless. And if my favoured party wasn’t one of the main two, forget it – the winner was a foregone conclusion. It’s truly one of the things that saddens me most about living in the UK, a country with a parliamentary history going back hundreds of years. At least the mayoral and PCC elections had ranked choice, but now even that has been removed. It feels incredibly disempowering.

I really sympathise with those who are checked out of politics, when they’ve lived in this system their whole life. This lack of political agency leads to a public who don’t engage with politics, become cynical, and think change is impossible and voting is pointless. PR directly combats this problem.

The lack of political agency [under FPTP] leads to a public who don’t engage with politics, become cynical, and think change is impossible and voting is pointless. PR directly combats this problem.

MMP in New Zealand certainly hasn’t resulted in getting a good government every time, or always giving me personally the result I wanted. But that’s not what voting systems are for. Under PR, New Zealand has had coalition governments in every parliament except one since MMP was introduced. Plenty has been achieved, and no New Zealand government has been any more chaotic than what we’ve seen in the UK under FPTP. Unlike many seem to fear, PR in New Zealand also did not result in great numbers of extremist MPs being elected. Parliaments should reflect the will of the country, and the public shouldn’t need to do mental or moral gymnastics with their vote to achieve that.

This is why PR is worth fighting for. It happened in New Zealand, and with enough political will, it can happen here too. If we can secure fairer representation, it could revitalise our politics and engender a more politically active, involved and engaged public. We activists can then use our energy on developing and promoting policies that help people. And all voters, like 18-year-old me, can be safe in the knowledge that our vote really counts.

Kieran Rayner is a professional opera singer, writer, and full time politics nerd. When not on stage or talking about voting systems to anyone who will listen, he can be found playing board games, running, or saying hello to the nearest cat.