First-past-the-post: time for electoral reform?

 Nigel Farage is greeted by supporters.
Credit: Oli Scarff / AFP via Getty Images

If the polls are right, this general election could deliver the most "lopsided" results in modern history, said The Guardian. The Labour Party looks set to enter Downing Street with "a record number of seats and an immense majority", despite receiving slightly fewer votes than Jeremy Corbyn in 2019.

The latest YouGov MRP poll projects Labour taking 39% of the vote, and winning 425 seats, its largest-ever number; the Tories, with 22%, would have only 108 seats. Our first-past-the-post (FPTP) system is notoriously unfair to third parties, but this time the outcome would be particularly "skewed". Nigel Farage's Reform UK, according to YouGov, would come third, with 15% of votes, but would win only five seats; by contrast the Lib Dems, with only 12% of the vote, would get 67. In short, this election "could make the case for proportional representation (PR)".

'PR for foreigners'

FPTP has long been defended on the grounds that it roots MPs in their local community and provides stable governments, said Tim Stanley in The Daily Telegraph. "PR was for foreigners, typically Italian, who like being governed by chaotic coalitions" collated from party lists. But that case now looks less convincing. "The two-party system is dying."

Smaller parties have emerged to represent "the disenfranchised" and "the discontented": the SNP, Reform UK, the Greens. Yet elections are still delivering results as if we were living under two mass-membership parties, circa 1945. Curiously, this is one part of the political system Keir Starmer doesn't want to reform. "Votes for 16-year-olds, Lords reform, yes." But why would he "tinker with an electoral system that hands him Napoleonic powers"?

'Screwed by the system'

Still, the Lib Dems, long the victims of FPTP, have shown a way to adapt to it, said Andrew Adonis in Prospect. Experts in "tactical opposition", they have built up their support so that it is concentrated in a hundred or so seats, mainly in the southwest and the Home Counties.

FPTP has always had its "quirks", said John Burn-Murdoch in the FT. But the "mismatch between votes and seats" is becoming much harder to wave away. And it's not clear that it "ensures greater political stability" and moderates the influence of extreme parties, as its defenders claim.

Analysis by the group Make Votes Matter shows that governments actually stay in power longer under PR than under FPTP. And if next week it deprives smaller parties of seats, its effect will be to boost populists like Farage by leaving "millions of voters with a justifiable sense of having been screwed by the system". It's time for change. "The make-up of Britain's Parliament should reflect the views of Britain's voters, not the peculiarities of its electoral system."