In the fight for equality, it’s time to make votes matter

We are being let down by our voting system, writes Shaan Sangha, from campaign group Make Votes Matter, the movement for Proportional Representation.

As Parliament returns, we have a Government with a large majority and a number of plans which might impact bme communities, we asked Shaan Sangha from Make Votes Matter to explain the advantages of changing from our current First Past the Post voting system.

There are a number of arguments for and against these changes and it needs to be remembered that making space for decidedly anti-racist parties might also make space for racist ones - but the debate is long overdue.

We are being let down by our voting system, writes Shaan Sangha, from campaign group Make Votes Matter, the movement for Proportional Representation.

Our current voting system, First Past the Post (FPTP), is a system that’s rigged against voters and breeds inequality by failing to fairly represent people.

It handed the current government a thumping majority at the last General Election despite getting a minority of the vote share. Regardless of who you actually vote for, living with a system that produces a huge majority on a minority of the vote means that policies that affect you and me can be rushed through Parliament with very little scrutiny.

For both sides of the political spectrum, parties are trying to cover huge swathes of political ideas under ‘broad churches’. But this can mean that we’re forced to vote for one party because we don’t like the other, not because we fully identify with their beliefs and manifestos.

Even though there are smaller parties, it’s hard to feel like our vote matters, especially if we feel we need to resort to tactical voting. For everyone to be truly represented in politics, things need to change.

What needs to change?

When we look at the issue of representation and how it specifically affects Black, Asian, and Minority Ethnic (BAME) people it becomes incredibly clear that this issue affects us as much as anyone.

But there’s a narrative around representation that concerns me. Take the controversial recent report by the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities which claimed there was no evidence that institutional racism exists, stating: ‘we no longer see a Britain where the system is deliberately rigged against ethnic minorities'.

The report sparked widespread condemnation from several prominent organisations including ROTA, Operation Black Vote, The Runnymede Trust, The Race Equality Foundation, and countless campaigners as it overwrites the lived experiences of so many people. It also sets a precedent that when it comes to race, nothing much needs to change. We are being told that racism is not a systemic issue, while those in charge of the systems we live in, enforce even more dangerous policy that will affect BAME people more severely.

Claiming that racism has gone away has parallels with the same narrative that is put forward by supporters of our voting system, who say it provides ‘strong and stable’ government. The evidence for this is at best flimsy and at worst, just not true, but because of First Past the Post they can take this view and make it into an official government position.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the government would consider the implications of the race report's recommendations for future policy and said it remained "fully committed to building a fairer Britain". But the elephant in the room is that the only route to building a fairer Britain starts with changing the voting system to a proportional method. We can’t rely on our government to give this to us; we need to demand it. We need to demand fair votes.

Then there’s the Police, Crime and Sentencing Courts Bill which is, according to The Prison Reform Trust, “very likely to be that the disproportionate and growing representation of black children and young black men in custody will increase, reflecting a systematic bias disclosed by the Lammy report”.

The Policing Bill will effectively punish people for exercising their democratic right to peacefully protest. While this bill sparked a wave of protests across the country when it first began its passage through Parliament, there is no recourse to prevent it from becoming law due to the government's parliamentary majority.

This hostility extends to the policies we won’t get to discuss under this government. No action will be taken to address the disproportionate number of black mothers who die in childbirth. It’s unlikely there will be an adequate pay rise for NHS staff, where many of those who have died fighting Covid-19 are from BAME communities.

This is all possible because the current government has decisive control over parliament, despite the fact that 56.4% of us didn’t vote for them, won with an outdated and unfair electoral system.

Meanwhile the Home Secretary Priti Patel has put forward proposals to change the voting system to elect mayors and Police and Crime Commissioners using FPTP. If implemented, this would be such a backward step for democracy because we need fewer elections decided by FPTP, not more!

What can we do?

After being part of the charity sector in South-East London for eight years, I realised that there are clear limits on what charities can do. As I sought to learn more about where social change can come from, I found out about Make Votes Matter and their work to secure equal votes. I signed up to volunteer with them immediately, realising that this is the vital transformation our politics needs to improve people’s lives.

At Make Votes Matter, we’re campaigning to change how Westminster elections are run. The route to building a fairer Britain starts with changing the voting system to a proportional method where seats match votes and every vote counts equally. That will give us all a fair say in how politics affects our lives. This could completely shift our political culture and allow us to vote for parties we really believe in, and who value us. Policies would be built and passed by consensus, not by one party in power bulldozing through the opinions of others. We would be able to have a government that represents the full spectrum of political thought, a government that values every vote. When it comes to the issues that affect us, our voices would be heard. Sit back and imagine that for a moment.

 

Ways to take action:

Sign up to Make Votes Matter mailing list and get news about the campaign.

Talk to people you know about how PR could make a difference.

Sign the petition, Less First Past the Post, not more.

 

Shaan Sangha

Shaan Sangha

Campaign group Make Votes Matter, the movement for Proportional Representation.