The Church and justice in voting

The following letter, by Colin Buchanan (the last President of the Electoral Reform Society), was published in Church Times on 23 January:


Your report by Tim Wyatt (16 January) of Show Up, a movement to ‘encourage Christians to get involved in politics’, did not touch on a major factor in ‘disillusionment’. The simple truth is that voting under our present ‘First-past-the-post’ electoral system is for large numbers a fruitless exercise. In the past this has been most marked in the 200 or so ‘safe’ seats, where voting is cosmetic only; but in may this year we may also see 200 or more seats where no less than five political parties (six in Scotland) with nationwide credibility are in contention with each other, and with other minor parties also standing. The upshot could be large numbers of MPs (of almost any persuasion) returned with a vote of between 20% and 35% of those who voted, and returned not because they were most wanted, but because the five-way split of votes made it wholly random which of the candidates would be returned – and the chances are that the result would not only be random, but would in a proportion of seats return the candidate least wanted by the 65%-80% of the electors who had voted for other parties.

The curious factor in this is that for nearly 100 years the Church of England has used the wholly just system of the Single Transferable Vote (STV) in its own major elections, and thus holds the high moral ground over against the injustices we are likely to see in the May election. In our General Synod, and its committees, we can demonstrate that the people have elected the people they wanted – the present parliamentary system cannot do that all.

This is a justice question, and, if we are to do what the report advocates by ‘seeing politics as another mission field’, then please can all who are speaking for us, and all who have a chance actually to engage, put the axe to the root of our unjust electoral system? Exhorting folk to vote within a laissez faire acceptance of the system is precisely opting out of our ‘mission’ responsibility.

Yours sincerely

Colin Buchanan (retired bishop)

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