Time to change the electoral landscape

David Maddox was right to draw attention to the corrupting effect of “safe seats” on the political culture, especially at Westminster (Inside Politics, 10 December).

The House of Commons, Westminster. Picture: PA

But the solution does not lie with “open primaries” as they do not address the real problem.

So long as we elect Westminster MPs by the discredited First-Past-The-Post (FPTP) voting system, little will change. The fundamental problem is that FPTP discards the votes of half of those who bother to vote. In 2010 that was 15.7 million of those who voted – at 52.8 per cent, the highest in recent years.

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FPTP allows a handful of voters in a few swing marginal constituencies to determine the government. In 2005 the outcome of the election was decided by only one percent of the 27 million who voted. So it’s no surprise that the main parties focus their policies on that little bit of “middle England”.

FPTP makes most seats, safe seats. In the 2010 general election only 99 seats changed hands. In Scotland there was no change at all, apart from the technical transfer from the former speaker of the House of Commons.

Not all of the other 551 seats are “safe”, but in the run-up to the 2010 election the Electoral Reform Society was able to call the winners in 380 of the 650 constituencies. Some seats have been firmly in one-party control since the time of Queen Victoria.

In the face of these problems – the real problems – a primary election would be a pointless, and costly, diversion.

Instead the voting system should be changed to elect several MPs together using the single transferable vote (STV-PR). Each party would nominate a team of candidates and so give the voters choice among candidates of the same party as well as choice among candidates of different parties.

Then parliament would fairly represent those who voted and we would have a single party majority government only if we voted for it.

STV-PR would put an end to the “safe seats” and make all the elected MPs directly accountable to their local voters. That would change the political culture.

• Dr James Gilmour is a member of the Electoral Reform Society