The 39 votes that would have put Corbyn into Number 10
PUBLISHED: 13:16 14 June 2017 | UPDATED: 13:16 14 June 2017
The 2017 General Election showed how first-past-the-post voting just isn’t fit for purpose any more, says Aidan Semmens.
Are you proud to be British – or English, or East Anglian, or a member of whichever other tribe you may feel you belong to? Daft, really, isn’t it?
It’s no achievement, after all, to be born in any particular place or time. I didn’t choose to be born in one of the world’s wealthiest and most developed countries. Rather than, say, Syria, or Ethiopia. Or in a famine or plague year. Or Jewish in 1930s Poland. Or on the brink of some future nuclear apocalypse – which, in fact, we may be.
It was none of my doing. It was just luck. Random chance. Nothing I could do about it.
It makes no more sense to be proud of our national heritage than it would to be ashamed of the slave trade or the worst excesses of the British raj. You and I weren’t there.
Still, I remember my headmaster when I was in primary school pointing out all the pink bits on the world map and encouraging us to be proud of them. Which is a sign both of how old I am, and how old-fashioned he was even then.
But we can agree we were lucky to be born British. Lucky in what we were schooled to feel pride in. That our little country, in so many ways, led the world.
The trouble with being first, though, is that sooner or later you get left with something no longer exactly state-of-the-art.
We led the way into the industrial age, but that’s over. We gave the world football, but it’s a while since we were the best at it. Our law is based, quaintly, on winners and losers, not seeking out the truth. It’s not just the fancy-dress wigs and gowns that belong in the 18th century.
And then there’s our political system. We’re living right now through another cracking example of just how fit for purpose it isn’t.
First-past-the-post is meant to produce strong, stable government. So that worked, then. Again.
Mind you, coalitions aren’t necessarily such a bad thing. Many countries – much of Europe, for example – live with them all the time. But there are different types of coalition, and different ways of arriving at them.
Those based on proportional representation, truly reflecting the range of public opinion, can work well, consensual politics avoiding extremes. Proper democracy, you might say.
Which is not what we have.
I’ve lived in safe Labour seats. I now live in an even safer Tory seat. My vote has never been worth a tuppenny curse. Under our system, most people’s votes are equally irrelevant.
But if just 16 souls had voted the other way in Southampton Itchen last week, they’d have elected a Labour MP instead of a Tory. And if 23 people in Richmond had ticked a different box, Zac Goldsmith would have been beaten.
If both those things had happened, it would have been Jeremy Corbyn, not Theresa May, piecing together a coalition government. On the say-so of just 39 voters in two constituencies.
Instead of which, we find effective power being handed to the far-right Democratic Unionists, who got less than 1% of the vote.
The DUP got 292,316 votes and 10 seats. The Green Party have just one MP for their 525,371 votes – and UKIP none at all for their 593,852. Funny sort of democracy.
The Tories had an average of 42,979 votes for each seat they won; Labour got an MP for every 49,141 votes; the LibDems needed 197,648 votes per seat gained; the SNP just 27,931 – slightly fewer even than the DUP.
Those figures would all have been very different under PR. And we’d have a less tribal, more consensual coalition in which the smaller parties had a real voice.
But that wouldn’t be very British, would it?