The voting system that has voters divided

Some constituencies in the UK are almost decided before the vote even happens. Certain parties have such strong holds on specific areas, that a count feels almost unnecessary.

The Green Party, for example, has won in Brighton Pavillion in both of the last two elections. However, Eastbourne is not one of those constituencies. The last couple of elections have seen the Tories and Lib Dems battle it out and swing back and forth between getting the MP. In such constituencies, the voters might feel that their vote truly matters and that it might be part of tipping the scale in either direction. In both 2015 and 2017, the race between the top two parties was close, whilst all the other parties trailed behind them.

At the 2017 general election, Stephen Lloyd, from the Liberal Democrats, won with a total of 26,924 votes or 46.9% of the votes. That means that the majority of people in Eastbourne, 53.1%, did not vote for him. This was also the case in 2015 when Caroline Ansell won in 2015 with 20,934 votes or 39.6% of the votes. This means that in 2015, you could say that 31,973 votes were effectively wasted. In 2017, the number was 30,496.

What is it like to run for a party in an area where you realistically don’t stand much of a chance of winning? Jake Lambert is standing for the Labour Party in the Eastbourne constituency once again, even though he was some way from getting in either in 2015 or 2017. At the last election, Labour received 8.1% of the votes and were quite some votes from getting the MP. 

The current UK electoral system for general elections, known as first past the post, and the historical split of the Eastbourne votes does effect Lambert’s current campaign. He says: “When we’re knocking on doors in Eastbourne, at least 30% of people we speak to say they would like to vote Labour if they could.”

When asked to describe what it is like to run when you don’t stand much of a chance of winning, he says: “It is a strange thing. I mean I am a teacher. I am a full-time classroom teacher and I don’t know what you know about teaching, but it is quite a stressful job at the best of times, so I do all of this on top of that as well. And so, it is a challenge.” 

Stephen Gander, from the Brexit Party, has similar thoughts about what it is like to run a campaign in the current system as an underdog. He says: “What the first past the post system does is it benefits the top two parties. With the Brexit Party, we are a very small party and we are going to struggle with the first past the post system.

“Now there are a lot of my supporters and there is a lot of support in the town, and what they tend to do is rather than vote for something they want, they vote against something they don’t want.”

On the Electoral Reform Society website, they highlight strengths and weaknesses with different electoral systems. On their site, first past the post is one of the lowest ranking electoral systems in the categories of “proportionality” and “voter choice”.

For Gander, there is no doubt that a change is needed. He says: “I think what the first past the post system does is it squeezes people and they don’t actually vote for what they want, so I would want proportional representation.”

Jake Lambert echoes this sentiment, stating: “I think we need to change our electoral system. It is fundamentally unfair. It means that huge numbers of people don’t have their choices taken into account by the system. It means that people feel like certain ideas can’t be supported when actually they passionately believe in those things.”

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