I live in the constituency of North Shropshire, where my MP is Owen Paterson, a man who hardly covered himself with glory during his time as Environment Secretary – one colleague describing him as an “industry puppet” (a Tory? quelle surprise), while Paterson himself spent time last year lashing out at Neil Young for daring to criticise Monsanto.
If in the next election I vote Tory, I get Owen Paterson as my MP. If I vote Labour, I get Owen Paterson as my MP. If I vote Liberal Democrat, I get Owen Paterson as my MP. If I vote Green, I get Owen Paterson as my MP. If I vote Monster Raving Loony, I get Owen Paterson as my MP, which seems appropriate actually. If I don’t vote I get Owen Paterson as my MP. If I spoil my vote I get Owen Paterson as my MP. Regardless of what I do, don’t do, or think about doing, I get Owen Paterson as my MP.
North Shropshire is the most secure seat in Britain. It has been in Tory hands since 1835. Yes, you read that right – 1835.
North Shropshire, like around 370 other constituencies according to the Electoral Reform Society – well over half the seats in Parliament – is a safe seat. All voters in safe seats are disenfranchised. Their votes – whether they support the sitting candidate or not – are, in the full sense of the word, meaningless. What then is the point of voting in a safe seat, unless, for reasons of British eccentricity, you just feel an urge to do something really pointless?
I don’t vote in North Shropshire, and I never have in any of the other safe seats I’ve lived in. I just can’t bring myself to support this ludicrous system; and I can’t make myself perform a meaningless act.
Here are some more numbers from the Electoral Reform Society:
- 368 seats are so safe the Electoral Reform Society can call the result in them before an election.
- 25.7 million voters live in safe seats.
- 79.3% of constituencies in North East England are safe seats, with 77.8% in Northern Ireland and 70% in the East of England.
- 225 constituencies have not changed political hands since before 1950.
Proportional Representation solves this problem and makes a British General Election fair to all. We need this change to drag Britain from the nineteenth century into the twenty first century. Frankly, any of the versions of PR would be better than the ridiculous system we presently have. And perhaps a change to PR would go some way to dealing with the abyss lying between voters and MPs, a gap that threatens only to widen as the years roll by. Perhaps then voters would believe that their vote truly did count, instead of listening, uncaring, to politicians mouthing that platitude.
“But it means coalition governments and lots of deal-making,” whinge the nay-sayers. Yes – compromise, deal making and working together. I’m pretty sure that’s what government in a true democracy is all about.