IN 2011, a fading historical figure who went by the name of Cameron – Donald? David? – made a speech about electoral reform. A referendum was afoot on doing away with first-past-the-post (FPTP) for Westminster elections, a system he supported.

The claims Cameron made were not just self-serving but absurd (Tories defending FPTP make climate-change deniers look like rank amateurs).

He argued that getting rid of FPTP would be “bad for democracy” because it would “lead to outcomes that were unfair”. It would create “a political system that is unaccountable”.

“Oops!” he must now be chuckling, as he watches how things have panned out under Boris Johnson. Our wonderfully fair voting system gave the outgoing Prime Minister 56 per cent of seats and a hefty working majority on just 43 per cent of the vote in 2019. It’s so good at ensuring accountability that it took literally dozens of ministers to resign and government almost grinding to a halt before Johnson would leave, in spite of his having lost the confidence of parliament and voters.

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So that’s the current system in action – and when certain planned changes take place, things will get worse.

The Tories have passed legislation making it compulsory to produce voter ID at polling stations for UK parliamentary elections. Voter fraud is extremely rare in the UK and the public has a very high degree of trust in the system, but the Conservatives claim they are introducing the changes to improve public “confidence”.

Opposition parties suspect the Tories of doing it because they think it will benefit them. Photo ID such as driving licences or passports will be required, though “voter cards” can be applied for in advance. If voters turn up at polling stations without ID, they will be turned away. Charities warn that those least likely to have passports and driving licences are those struggling for cash, the young, the elderly and disabled people.

Meanwhile, the non-partisan Boundary Commission has been consulting on new constituency boundaries in a process due to conclude next year. The aim is to ensure that constituencies have equal numbers of voters, but it’s set to benefit the Conservatives by increasing the number of seats in traditional affluent Tory-voting areas like southern England and reduce seat numbers in poorer areas in the north and Scotland, giving the Tories even more of a structural advantage.

And what an advantage it is. The British electoral system creates the kind of electoral races to make the International Olympic Committee queasy. When the starting gun is fired, Team Tory wear jet packs, Labour carry ankle weights and the Lib Dems and Greens haven’t even arrived at the stadium.

In 2019, it took 38,000 votes to elect a Tory, but 51,000 to elect a Labour MP. The Lib Dems got one MP for every 336,000 votes cast for them; the Greens got one MP in exchange for 867,000 votes. Like the Tories, the SNP benefit enormously from this system. In 2019, they won 81 per cent of Scottish seats on just 45 per cent of the vote. It takes just 26,000 votes to elect an SNP MP, dramatically fewer even than the Conservatives.

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Unlike the Conservatives, the SNP do at least advocate for voting reform.

All this means that millions of voters feel disenfranchised, and many have done for years. There are retired people all over the UK who have turned out to vote faithfully all their lives but haven’t once contributed to the election of an MP. Typical examples would be a Labour voter in a safe Tory seat, or a committed Lib Dem or Green voter just about anywhere.

But there is an answer: changing the voting system. With a more proportional voting system, the one-party dominance of Westminster by the Tories, and of Scotland by the SNP, would end overnight.

Forget the referendum on voting reform held in 2011: that was not about proportional representation (PR). The Alternative Vote system is essentially majoritarian, like FPTP.

What’s needed is a system that produces a parliament that reflects the way people have voted.

The Electoral Reform Society estimates that, had the 2019 election been held under the same proportional rules used for European elections, the Conservatives would not have won a majority at all, but collected 288 seats, down 77. Labour would have got 216 (up 14). The Lib Dems would have got 70 (up 59) and the SNP 28 (down 20). No more one-party dominance, either in England or Scotland.

If we had a fair voting system, something else would change too. The rightist flavour of British politics, skewed that way by first-past-the-post, would instantly change as more Labour, Green and Lib Dem MPs were elected, representing the true spread of opinion out there in the country. It would diminish the sense, so widely held in Scotland but so mistaken, that English people “vote Tory”, when English voters’ views are simply not mirrored by the make-up of parliament.

Above all, many more people would share in the experience of casting a vote and having it actually count.

But what are the chances of electoral reform happening? It has historically lacked support in either of the two dominant UK parties, but Labour has now had a conspicuous and dramatic change of heart.

At Labour’s UK conference last year, voting reform was at the forefront, with something like 150 constituency Labour parties (CLPs) submitting motions calling for it – no other single issue is thought ever to have prompted so many motions at a Labour conference. Eighty per cent of CLPs supported voting reform, but only five unions (including Aslef and the Fire Brigades Union), so the motion did not pass.

However, union titans Unite and Unison have both since signalled their support. Labour4PR think it likely that the issue will come back to conference this year, one insider telling me that they are very hopeful that PR for Westminster will be part of Labour’s manifesto at the next general election. It will be part of a package of reforms to the way we do government, including abolishing the Lords and replacing it with a Senate of the Nations and Regions.

This would be seismic. Labour strategists point to polls showing overwhelming public support for a PR system (perhaps similar to that operating at Holyrood elections). Labour4PR, perhaps controversially, does not advocate a referendum on PR but would regard majority support for reform in parliament as sufficient to legislate. It would have this in spades if Labour won the next election due to the support of the SNP, Liberal Democrats and Greens. If the Conservatives howl in protest, people are apt to say: well you would, wouldn’t you?

PR for Westminster is not only the best way to end governments that lack majority support, it’s the best way to make all our votes count and inject some healing force back into ailing British democracy. God knows, it needs it.