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Sheffield For Democracy Sheffield MPs split on calls for fairer voting system

Local politicians express mixed opinions about reforms to make seats in Parliament more closely match the number of votes.

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Members of Sheffield For Democracy at the amphitheatre in August.

Sheffield For Democracy.

A local campaign to make the voting system fairer has revealed new research into the attitudes of Sheffield MPs towards electoral reform.

Sheffield For Democracy asked the city's six parliamentarians for their views on moving to a system of Proportional Representation (PR) for Westminster elections.

Two were in favour of changing the existing first past the post (FPTP) system, two were against, and two expressed mixed opinions.

Vicky Seddon, Coordinator of Sheffield For Democracy, said that FPTP "means we end up with a government that does not have democratic credibility."

"Our current government has an 80 seat majority. With that majority, there is limited ability for Parliament to genuinely hold the government to account. Surely, it is time for a change in our voting system, so that all votes do count, and the seats in Parliament do reflect the votes cast.”

Under the current system, whichever candidate gets the most votes in a seat is elected and all other votes are discarded. This means that right-wing candidates can win a seat even if most voters opt for progressive parties, or vice versa.

This leads to parliaments that are unrepresentative of the national share of the vote. At the 2019 general election the Green Party gained 2.7% of the overall vote but only won one out of 650 seats.

Meanwhile the Conservatives received 43.6% of the vote but won 56.1% of the seats. The Liberal Democrats were the biggest losers from FPTP last year, receiving 11.5% of votes cast but only taking 1.7% of the seats.

There are many types of Proportional Representation, but all would see the allocation of seats to each party more closely match their share of the vote.

Forms of Proportional Representation are used in the UK for elections to the Scottish and Welsh Parliaments, and were also used to elect MEPs to the European Parliament.

Both Sheffield Hallam MP Olivia Blake and Sheffield Central MP Paul Blomfield, who is vice-chair of the Labour Campaign for Electoral Reform, support the campaign for a fairer voting system.

“I fully support Sheffield for Democracy’s Make Votes Matter campaign," said Blake, who was elected for the first time in December. "Our democratic processes are in urgent need of review and a fairer voting system is needed to make votes count.”

Conservative MP for Penistone & Stocksbridge Miriam Cates, whose party benefit from FPTP, is against a move to a more proportional system.

“I understand that there are many views about the merits of different voting systems and the outcomes that they achieve," Cates told Sheffield For Democracy.

"It is my belief that the first past the post system that we currently use in the UK manages to strike a sensible balance, ensuring that communities have a locally accountable representative, along with providing governments with a strong and clear mandate in the vast majority of cases."

Labour MP for Sheffield South East Clive Betts is also against proportional representation, telling Sheffield For Democracy that "by proportional representation I presume you mean that we simply count the votes nationally and divide up the number of MPs on the same proportion.

"There are different forms of Proportional Representation, but none proposed for the UK would see seats allocating to parties according to their national share of the vote.

Labour MPs Gill Furniss and Louise Haigh both expressed mixed feelings on electoral reform, with Furniss saying that "there are benefits and flaws in all voting systems."

"[A] proportional system would allow people to vote for those they believed in, rather than vote tactically, while FPTP has a history of returning stable governments and retains a constituency link," she added.

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Sheffield For Democracy with Sheffield Hallam MP Olivia Blake.

Sheffield For Democracy.

Most European countries use some form of PR. This leads to more coalition governments, but advocates of reform say that this encourages cooperation and consensus-building and would be good for our political culture.

The Green Party, the SNP, the Liberal Democrats and Plaid Cymru all support PR, and there are now growing calls within Labour for the party to back reform.

Haigh, who is the Labour MP for Sheffield Heeley, called for "a new long-term political and constitutional consensus," adding that "changing the voting system alone would not fix the disconnect that some voters feel about our political process."

“I will continue to support efforts to create a fairer and more inclusive democratic system which allows as many people as possible to be engaged in the process.”

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