By Alberto Smith, Interim Chief Strategy Officer, Make Votes Matter

On 4th July, millions of people participated in politics. For some, this was their first time. For others, this was just one election of many. People voted for a multitude of different options, with different priorities, values and visions for the future, but all put their crosses on their papers and placed their votes in the same black ballot box. What united those disparate and varied hopes as they went into the ballot box, is that most of them would not count. 

The 2024 election will go down in British general election history as the most distorted election result yet, setting records for the ways in which it frustrated democracy. When measured using the Gallagher Index, this election was the most egregious case of Parliament not accurately reflecting the way the public voted. With a score of nearly 24, only one other national election to a primary chamber in Western democratic history has been more disproportional. 

A record 58% of voters didn’t obtain representation from an MP of their choosing, and in total 74% of votes didn’t contribute to the election of an MP.

There was also a significant discrepancy between the numbers of votes needed to elect an MP for each party. The Labour Party only needed 24,000 votes per MP elected, whilst the Green Party required 485,000 and Reform UK a staggering 823,000 votes per MP respectively.

This frustration of the will of the people, by valuing people’s votes differently and robbing people of their political agency based on where they live, leads to a politics that doesn’t accurately reflect the breadth and diversity of opinion across the country. It leads to a politics of narrow focus, overly skewed towards the views of a tiny minority of swing voters, and a government that wields power, without the need for compromise, on a third of the votes cast, and a far smaller share of the total electorate. 

What this election has made clear is that First Past the Post is an institutional driver of instability. Governments can be, and almost always are, elected on a minority of the vote, in this case only one third of votes cast, yet granted unchecked power to develop a policy platform that doesn’t have the consent of a majority of the public.

Nothing is more emblematic of this mismatch than Labour’s change in fortunes. In 2019, Labour were widely felt to have had one of their ‘worst ever performances’, securing only 203 seats. Whereas in 2024, many have described Labour’s 412 seats as among their ‘best ever’ results. This, despite receiving 500,000 fewer votes in 2024 than in 2019. 

Winning a significant majority of seats, and with it total control over legislation, on 34% of the vote on less than 60% turnout should be a warning to all who value stability within UK politics. With only a tiny change in the composition and distribution of the vote next time, we are at risk of lurching in an entirely different direction, again with the consent of only a small percentage of the electorate.

If we wish to truly restore trust, engagement and stability to our politics, we must act to grant each voter an equal vote, and ensure that we include a wider range of political actors, and therefore the people that they represent, in deciding our way forward as a nation. 

We face a crisis of trust in politics. Results like this are only likely to exacerbate the problem.  People who have waited 5 years to express their opinion and endorse ideas for national renewal find that the breadth of view in their community is straightjacketed by the system, their diversity of thought incarnated in a single representative who, no matter how skilled or well-intentioned, can never hope to represent all views at all times. It should come as no surprise that if people are denied a real voice and stake in our politics, they lose faith in its ability to tackle our greatest challenges. 

We must reform our voting system to ensure that we can all engage positively with our politics based on our preferred outcome, no longer forced to vote tactically for the least worst option. Until we update our democracy to bring us into line with our international peers, and root our democracy in its most fundamental principle, an equal vote for all, our politics will continue to be characterised by unfairness, instability and ineffectiveness. It’s time to grow our movement and work together to ensure this was the last election under FPTP.