Political Reform: Changing the voting system


Just the heads up this essay article is over 1,500 words but discusses in depths about political reform and how it happened in New Zealand.


People often either argue for a PR (Proportional Representation) voting system to make the voting system fairer or to keep the status quo and maintain the FPTP (First Past the Post) voting system. However how about the best of both ? MMP ?


What is MMP?

MMP (Mix Member proportional) voting system is a more democratic voting system than the current FPTP (First Past The Post). In a MMP voting system every vote is counted and none is wasted unlike the FPTP voting system. MMP is a hybrid voting system that uses the combination of a FPTP and PR voting system.

Its defining characteristics are a mix of MPs from constituencies and those elected from a party.

It is a proportional system, which means that the proportion of votes a party gets will largely reflect the number of seats it has in parliament.


MMP in New Zealand explained:


Why MMP?
Under MMP no matter if you are in Newcastle or Southampton, your vote counts equally along with everyone else’s. With MMP everyone’s party votes count equally to determine the number of seats each political party gets in Parliament.

Under MMP the parliaments will become more representative of British people. It encourages all political parties to put a range of candidates on their party lists.
You might like one of your local candidates but not like their party. You can split your vote and vote for the person you like in your constituency and for a different party with your party vote.
Everyone can approach their constituency MP. Under MMP, everyone can also approach list MPs for help – they will have more choice. This is particularly important for people who want to talk to an MP who shares their ethnicity, age group or gender or particular interest or experience.
List MPs often ‘shadow’ electorate MPs from other parties to keep them honest, and give voters in any given constituencies more MPs to talk to.


How would MMP work in the United Kingdom?


In a general election each person will get two votes:
The First vote – The first vote (known as the party vote) is to select a political party. This will determine how many seats a party will gain in the House of Commons. If a party gains 10% of the first vote then they are entitled to circa 10% of the seats in parliament.*
The Second vote – The second vote (known as the constituency vote) is used to elect an MP for a voter’s constituency. The candidate with the most votes will be elected to represent that constituency.

If a party gains 10% of the first vote they are entitled to 65 seats in the House of Commons (10% of 650). The first 65 seats will be filled with the constituencies that party has won, the rest filled by the candidate list.
*Party must gain at least 5% of the party vote share to gain list MPs.


Currently we have 650 MPs that elected from each constituency using the FPTP voting system. Each constituency has on average 68,175 voters. However, under MMP each constituency would have ceria 100,000 voters, thus producing 443 constituencies. There will still be 650 MPs in House of Commons – 443 elected by the second (constituency) vote, and 207 elected from party lists.

Gaining Seats in Parliament

Each constituency that a party or an independent wins will deliver a seat in parliament. In order to gain List MPs in the House of Commons, a party must exceed a 5% threshold of the nation-wide vote in anyone of the 4 UK countries. Therefore if the Green party won 15% of the vote in England they will be entitled to circa 80 seats in the House of Commons (15% of 533 seats in England).

The UK would employ the same voting calculation for MMP as used by New Zealand, a formula known as ‘the Sainte-Laguё formula’ which is used to determine the total number of seats each party is entitled to in parliament. A political party’s total number of seats in Parliament is filled with a mix of Constituency MPs and List MPs. For example, if a party gets 30% of the party vote it will get roughly 295 MPs in Parliament (being 30% of the 650 seats); if that party wins 150 constituency seats it will have 45 List MPs in addition to its 150 constituency MPs. The party list is a list of candidates that is created before the general election. In the UK they would have to be 4 party lists, a list for each country (England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland). The list is ranked in order, from 1 to a maximum of: 169 (England), 19 (Scotland), 13 (Wales) and 6 (Northern Ireland). If a party wins 45 party list seats then the first 45 candidates on the candidate list become MPs.


Can political reform happen in the UK


Well the people in power, The Conservatives Party, certainly do not want to change the status-quo as it would mean job loss for many of their colleagues as FPTP (First Past the Post) benefits both the Conservatives and Labour Party. But can political reform happen in Britain, as FPTP have been the voting system for over 150 years?

I certainly believe we can, but to achieve this we need to see how other countries have accomplished such political reform. New Zealand,  adopted the UK parliamentary system with the FPTP voting system but changed the voting system not long ago therefore I believe it is a good idea to examine what happened in New Zealand to understand how they attained political reform.


The New Zealand electrical system pre 1993 was very much similar to the United Kingdom where it had First Past the Post Voting system and that the National Party (similar to the Conservative party) and the Labour Party (similar to the Labour Party in the UK) where the two dominate force in politics. Both Parties from 1935 to 1993 ruled outright New Zealand between them, causing the two horse race effect. However a number of small parties; Social Credit (renamed Democratic Party), The Values Party (early pre-creation of the Green party), help changed the political voting system as they gained support however they either failed to gain seats or best one or two. For example the Social Credits in 1981 gained 20.7% of the nation support however due to FPTP they only received 2 seats in Parliament. Also the vote share did not reflect the outcome of the election. In both 1978 and 1981 the National Party won the General Election in terms of number of seats in parliament despise coming second. This is also a mirror image of what is happening in the United Kingdom, the vote share doesn’t reflect the seats in parliament and the vote percentage for both Labour and Conservative have dropped massively since the 1950’s.

graph1 graph2


It took many years for the New Zealanders before they accomplished political reform. In 1984 the NZ Prime Minister promising a referendum on the voting system however shortly after he made a massive U-turning. The parliament for many years after batted the idea around which divide parliament between pro-reformist and anti-reformist; moreover sub division happened within the pro-reformist as they couldn’t agree which voting system should be put to the people. After the 1990 election with both two parties promising electrical referenda, the PR system gained massive public support as 65% was in favour of PR and 18% was in favour of FPTP. This was mainly due to the National Party gaining 69% of seats in Parliament despise only getting 48% of the vote. The National Party kept their electrical reform promised and offered a referendum.


The National Party decided to go ahead and let the people decide on a referendum. In 1992 the question was asked if voters wished to retain FPTP or change electoral systems. The result was 84.7% favour of replacing FPTP, and 15.3% against. For those whom wanted change was given a second question, which voting system they would like. The following chooses were PV, MMP, SM and STV. MMP won with 70.5%. Then another referendum was held in 1993 on the same day of the New Zealand General Election with the question that asked the voters if they would like to retain the FPTP voting system or changed to MMP. MMP won with 56% to 44% in favour of FPTP.


The New Zealanders would have not adopted a more proportional voting system without the increasing inadequacy of its plurality voting system to represent public opinion effectively under conditions of party system dealignment. The polls showed a massive decrease in government’s trust as it became a country of a two party dictatorship despise a decrease in support of the two parties and the peoples of New Zealand felt that their voices was not being heard.


Observing New Zealand history in political reform I believe the United Kingdom have the ability to change it’s voting system. However this will need all minor parties, activist and media to endorse political reform at every opportunity to put pressure on the main two parties. Also the question should not be asked whether we have A or B, similar to the 2011 referenda where the public had the choice of FPTP or AV. There is more to offer than the terrible two options that was given in 2011. The question should be asked to keep the status-quo or Change it. People who choose change then will be given the option which system they prefer.


The war of political reform has just begun. We the public still need to voice the weakness and unfairness of the current system and not to fall into the trap of thinking that we have to vote either Conservatives or Labour. By opposing the main two we would be making the government more unjustifiable.


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