As eagle-eyed readers may have noticed, I had an article in The Times yesterday making the case against electoral reform. (It’s on page 77 if you missed it.) Ken Ritchie of the Electoral Reform Society put the case for. We are now regular sparring partners.
Accompanying the two articles is a box briefly detailing the features of different electoral systems. For first-past-the-post, it says ‘The candidate with the most votes in the constituency wins. All other votes count for nothing.’
All other votes do not count for nothing. Those voting for other candidates may not have produced the winner – amazingly enough, in all electoral systems there are winners and losers – but their votes serve an important purpose. Why do people turn out to vote in seats in which their candidates are unlikely to win? When I had a vote in parliamentary elections, I voted Conservative in a safe Labour seat (or what was a safe Labour seat). I voted in the local elections on 6 May for Conservative candidates in a safe Labour area. As far as I was concerned, I wasn’t wasting my time. My vote is a public way of expressing my preference. In many respects, there is a powerful incentive for parties who normally come second or even third or fourth to campaign hard in order to demonstrate that their cause is not lost in the area. The votes gained by a party may not be sufficient to win a seat but they can send out a message. That message may be ‘we’re on the move, watch out next time’. The votes also add to the party’s total number to demonstrate the national level of support.
One should not underestimate the sense of satisfaction of having voted for one’s own side, regardless of the outcome.