Seven parliamentary elections took place in European countries in 2017. In France and Austria turnouts declined, bringing them down to eighth and tenth ranks in our table then. The Czech Republic and Norway were static.
In Germany and the Netherlands, turn-out increased by 4.7% and 7.3% respectively. Both countries moved well up from their previous ninth and seventh places. Since then further elections in Europe have taken place and we now reproduce the most up to date table as at June 2019:
Advocates of the UK’s first-past-the-post electoral system often don’t know that it is the only one persisting among the developed democracies of Europe. Nor that along with the USA and Canada it is one of only three major western economies that retain it. But they argue that British voters would not like Westminster elections based on proportional representation. Across the Channel, though, eleven out of fourteen European electorates are more motivated than Brits to go to the polls, as our table shows. The last column projects how many more Brits would have voted at those countries’ turnout rates.
2017’s increase in UK turnout of 2.6% from the relatively low starting point of 66.1% in 2015 and unimpressive twelfth place ranking, was touted by many as “a re-awakening of interest in politics”. Given the fanfare advance billing for Brexit – “the most crucial issue facing the nation since WWII” – 2.6% seems more like gently stirring from an afternoon nap. Numerically, though, 1.5 million extra voters did turn out, a moderate step in the right direction but fewer than Germany’s extra 2.7 million and not hugely more than the Netherlands’ 1.1 million extra, a country whose electoral size is a mere quarter of the UK’s. The issue of outstanding significance in the UK was massive vote redistribution mainly from the Liberal-Democrats and UKIP to Labour and Tory and from the Greens and SNP to a lesser degree.
In Germany, the right-wing party AfD attracted 13% of the vote, the same as UKIP in 2015. UKIP were allocated one seat in parliament, the AfD, ninety-four. Repeat: ninety-four. Under PR, UKIP would have got at least eighty. How we orbit on a politically different planet from the rest of Europe! Some would say democratically different too. This website may well not agree with UKIP policies but we unhesitatingly say they should have been defending eighty seats at the 2017 election, not one. Their standing in parliament would still be reduced no doubt. In fact under first-past-the-post’s ‘reality’, representation of their 1 million remaining voters’ views has magicked away altogether.
The UKIP party though has kept the lowest possible profile on electoral reform so we aren’t reaching for the box of tissues. With full knowledge of the situation they have placidly accepted living with the cruel fate that first-past-the-post, for all the foreseeable future, will unfailingly dole out to them and all parties of similar size and diffidence.