When is a majority not a majority?

Yesterday, my local council ward held a by-election. As with most elections in the UK that follow the “first past the post” system, the winner was the candidate with the most votes. The system makes it clear who’s the winner, is less prone to confusion, and takes less time to announce the result.

So the system works, right?

I’m a political animal, but I’m not particularly close to any particular political party. It’s just that I recognize that politics touches every aspect of our lives. Whether you like it or not, everything from our wage packet, the transportation we use, to the way our children are taught is affected by local, national, and international politics.

This is why I always vote, and go out of my way to convince non-voters to do likewise. I find it hard to accept that 100 years ago women fought for the right to vote in the UK, yet most women don’t exercise their right to say who they’d like to look after their interests. I don’t buy the “They’re all the same” or “The party I vote for never wins around here” arguments. Voting isn’t just about wanting someone to win. It’s also about speaking up for what you believe in.

How did the by-election go then?

See for yourself below. A turnout of a little over 36%, means that two thirds of voters couldn’t be bothered to place a cross on a piece of paper. That’s sad.

Of the 36% that voted, less than 50% voted for the winner. In fact the winner’s total votes represented less than 17% of the electorate. That’s not so much sad, as tragic!

election_result

So what’s the answer?

There’s no silver bullet. No voting system is perfect, but it does seem strange that someone with less than a fifth of the available votes can be elected. Personally I’d like to see a combination of the following:

  • Compulsory voting: Countries like Australia make it compulsory to vote, with those not doing so fined.
  • A “None of the Above” ballot option: This allows disenfranchised voters to say they’re unhappy with the choice available, and it would force the Returning Officer to announce this option’s vote total as if it was a candidate. It would be striking if “None of the Above” won a sizable number of constituencies.
  • Make politics more inclusive: It’s fair to say those elected to the UK’s electoral bodies aren’t totally representative of the population. It’s improving, but much more needs to be done.

What isn’t the answer?

A more problematic solution is changing the rules, to make an election null and void if the winner doesn’t have more than 50% of the votes. This would clear up the issue of whether someone has a majority, but would cause a logistical and financial nightmare, particularly with national elections. The fallout could go on for months, with all the political uncertainly that goes with it.

You may not think that scenario would affect you, but you’d be wrong. The financial markets don’t like uncertainty. The chances are the pound would fall dramatically against other currencies. As a result:

  • The cost of government lending would increase, meaning there’d likely be less money to provide for those in need. To prevent this, the government could borrow more or tax us more.
  • The value of your pension pot would decrease meaning you’d have to save more to provide for your retirement. In turn you’d have less disposable income.
  • There’d be inflationary fears meaning everything from the price of your daily pint of milk, to the energy you use to heat your home would increase.

Do you still think politics doesn’t affect you?

No? Then for heaven’s sake please vote next time and make a difference.