It has become a well-worn trope to blame our disconnected politics on political parties. What if, however, the problem isn’t that people are not supporting political parties; what if people no longer see politics as having agency in their lives? – and so are not voting.

The political media, especially during elections, obsess about the "now" – to the exclusion of providing a realistic comparison with historical data. More than that, due to the quid-pro-quo of the lobby system in Westminster the political media innately focus upon the political system as it is, without critically assessing the role that parties and the electoral system itself play in the greater issue of democracy and representation.

In summary, the media portray the system ‘as is’ without questioning whether the democratic will of the people has been adequately represented by that system of elections, and the parties it elects.

The ‘UK Democracy Chart’ has been created by the Free Range Network to provide a simple graphical snapshot of how elections and population changes have affected both the scale of voting, and the votes case for the governing party following each election.

What this shows is that the public are being systematically marginalised from the UK political process – expressed as a consistent drop-off in turnout over the last three decades combined with a simultaneous drop in the threshold of votes required for a government to be elected.

Representation no longer matches political expression

Jeremy Corbyn in a snow storm

The 2019 general election was hyped by all parties as a the ‘most important election in a generation’.

If so, why did voter turn-out fall compared to the 2017 election?

Too often people complain about the disconnect between people and parties being due to the anomalies of the ‘first-past-the-post’ voting system. That view is valid – but it still only considers the votes cast.

What is more interesting is to look at the proportion of votes NOT cast in elections – and how this has changed over time. More importantly, in this age of media spin and social media manipulation, the effect of reducing the overall number of votes cast is to reduce the margin required for any political position to gain power.

‘UK Democracy Chart’ poster

The chart illustrates how voting has changed over the past 90 years – since voting was first carried-out on an equal basis. It used to take a third to two-fifths of the vote to elect a government. Recently this has fallen to only 25% to 30%. What this means is not only that the value of votes for certain parties in certain places is reduce; it also means that the parties, via lobbying in the media, need less people to ‘swing’ Britain’s dysfunctional voting system.

Politics may not be the root of the problem; it might be ‘representation’ that is in trouble. When less than a third of the population eligible to vote can elect a government, is it any wonder that our national political dialogue is so polarised and unstable?

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