Blair Under Pressure To Reform Britain's
from Union Jack
by Ed Johnson
Tony Blair's Labour Party may have won the election, but
the victory came with one of the lowest shares of the popular vote ever, prompting
fresh demands for an overhaul of Britain's electoral system. Even some of the winners of last month's race claim that one of the world's
oldest democracies has failed to live up to its democratic principles. "Having a system where everybody feels their vote counts is critically
important," said John Denham, a senior Labour Legislator. Unlike many European countries, Britain does not have proportional representation,
in which legislative seats are distributed based on the overall vote breakdown.
Instead, there is a single-seat system in which each district sends one lawmaker
to parliament, similar to how congressional representatives are elected in the
United States. The British model has seen parties that won the most votes actually lose the
election, as happened in the 2000 US presidential election, when Al Gore won
the popular vote, but lost to George W Bush under the electoral system.
Campaigners for reform say the system hands a disproportionately
large victory to the winning party while unfairly excluding smaller or fringe
parties. The election saw Blair's Labour Party return to office with 356 seats despite
winning only about 35% of the vote. The Conservatives were only three percentage
points behind yet won only 197 seats. The Liberal Party won just 62 seats on
22 percent of the vote. Under Britain's system, whoever wins the most votes in each district gets the
seat, and the party that gets the most legislators into the 646 seat House of
Commons forms the government. That makes for "wasted" votes in districts where a candidate wins
in a landslide a chronic problem for the [Conservatives] who have pockets
of overwhelming support in rural areas. "The election result was really
a travesty of democracy. For every person who voted Labour, two people voted
for other parties and two people abstained and yet we have a majority government,"
said Nina Temple of the pressure group, Make Votes Count.
Some 100 Labour Lawmakers back a system shake-up and Blair's
government says it is committed to a review just not anytime soon. The
system is currently skewed in Labour's favor, because the party's votes are
spread more efficiently across the country. "There are only three major democracies in developed countries that still
use 'first past the post:' the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom,"
said Lord Oakeshott of the Liberal Democrats, Britain's third largest party
which has long campaigned for proportional representation. "We think the
system is broken beyond repair." The fact that candidates in a multi-candidate
race don't need an absolute majority to win a seat also means that some lawmakers
in last week's election won with less than 25% of support in their districts.
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