Campaigners in Harrogate call for change to ‘unequal’ voting system
Last updated Aug 1, 2021
Campaigners in Harrogate yesterday.

Campaigners in Harrogate called for a change to the “unequal” UK voting system yesterday.

Members of the cross-party pressure group Make Votes Matter were at the town’s war memorial handing out leaflets about proportional representation (PR) and speaking to passers-by.

In the 2019 general election, 54% of votes in North Yorkshire went to the Conservative Party yet they hold 7 out of the 8 seats in Parliament. Members of the group believe the political make-up of Westminster and local councils should better reflect the way people vote.

Elections for councillors and MPs in this country currently adopt the first-past-the-post system whereby the candidate in each constituency or ward who gets the most votes wins.

Harrogate resident Graham Dixon would like to see the current system replaced with a version of PR so that “every vote matters”.

Scotland, Wales and London, for example, use a version of PR called mixed-member proportional representation whereby people get two votes: one to choose a representative and another for a party.

Many European countries such as the Netherlands and Spain, operate the party list proportional representation, whereby voters elect a group of MPs, rather than a single person.

Mr Dixon said:

“First-past-the-post polarises society and sets people against each other. It encourage a two-party state.

“Very few seats change hands in the UK, they are cast in stone.”

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The Harrogate and Knaresborough constituency has been held by the Conservative Andrew Jones since 2010. Critics of the current system locally believe it makes a two-horse race between the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats a near-certainty, with Labour and Green voters often forced to vote tactically.

Former Liberal Democrat parliamentary candidate for Skipton and Ripon Andrew Murday wants to see first-past-the-post in the bin.

Mr Dixon believes a PR system would mean the electorate wouldn’t have to choose the “least worst option”.

“PR does away with the need for tactical voting and encourages people to vote. Some people don’t bother to vote in Harrogate.

“From the housing mess in Harrogate to cycle lanes, it’s all affected by how people have voted.”

Harrogate Borough Council is set to be abolished to make way for a North Yorkshire mega council in 2023.

Mr Dixon said re-organisation presented an opportunity to bring in PR and enable all voters to have a stronger voice in what is a traditional Conservative heartland.

However, he accepts that the chances of it happening under the current government are unlikely.