First-past-the-post system breeds cynical and disaffected voters | Letters

Neal Lawson of Compass and others on the urgent need for electoral reform and why without it elections will continue to be just guessing games

December’s election saw parties of the left forced to spend inordinate amounts of time debating how to vote tactically, how to game the system, and fighting among themselves – rather than taking the battle to the Conservatives. That’s the result of a warped voting system at Westminster which forces people to “hold their nose”, which castigates splitting the vote – ie having real democratic choice – and favours binary narratives over diversity and cooperation.

For too long, Westminster’s political system has been for the few, and by the few. Just 16% of the public believe politics is working well in the UK – and only 2% feel they have a significant influence over decision-making, according to recent BMG polling for the Electoral Reform Society. It’s no wonder when our broken constitutional set-up distorts representation – driving a sense of powerlessness across the country.

So it’s welcome to see Clive Lewis putting the need for real democracy – including proportional representation for the Commons – front and centre in his leadership bid (Clive Lewis: Labour must be radical and reject tribalism, 7 January).

The future of the left has to be pluralist, diverse and cooperative: to recognise that we have more in common and to build alliances.

Whoever wins this leadership election, it’s vital that these issues are part of the debate – and that Lewis secures enough nominations to take part. The democratic crisis must not be ignored in this race. Now is the right time for Labour to discuss a genuinely progressive way forward, away from tribalism, and to back a real overhaul of Britain’s broken political system.
Neal Lawson Chair of Compass, James Meadway Former adviser to John McDonnell, Klina Jordan, Willie Sullivan Director, Electoral Reform Society Scotland, Jeremy Gilbert Academic and author, Jo Littler Professor, department of sociology, City, University of London

• Anyone who enjoys sums, as both Robert Frazer (Letters, 2 January) and I do, can have fun in these miserable times deriving different winner/loser permutations produced by our electoral system. But one thing is obvious: no matter how you cut the figures, under first past the post, votes cast have only limited connection to seats won.

Thus, FPTP in my home borough of Lewisham meant Labour swept the board in the 2018 local elections, winning all 54 council seats. However, while its 54% victory for the mayoralty showed Labour was the “true” winner of that ballot, it only underlined the unrepresentative nature of our wider local government. Tens of thousands across Lewisham had voted against Labour, without delivering a single opposition member to hold the council to account.

Similar exercises can be done nationally. So, in spite of knowing their votes would be “wasted”, across Britain well over 800,000 people chose the Greens in the last general election, producing just one seat. Meanwhile, Labour garnered one MP for every 50,800 votes, the Tories one for every 38,300 votes and the SNP averaged just under 26,000 in securing each seat.

As a Labour supporter, I don’t think any of us benefit from huge discrepancies between votes cast and representatives elected. Cynicism and resentment rack up in an already dangerously disaffected electorate; vast and disproportionate power goes to a winner that lacks legitimacy among many voters; and elections themselves turn into guesswork (where to invest resources, whether to vote tactically). Most important, playing with election statistics is displacement activity: it distracts us from engaging in crucial political reflection as to why a party with a caring and moderate social democratic agenda was smashed by one that is sectarian, incompetent, shoddy, careless, dishonest, racist and visionless.
Naomi Wayne

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