Politics

General election 2024: Over 100 seats have been held by the same party for a century, study finds

Leaders of the two main parties are failing to inspire, but the Electoral Reform Society says the current system leaves voters feeling ignored

Campaigners at an electoral reform protest. One man is holding a sign reading: Our voting system fails to give us representation in government

Electoral reform campaigners have worked out that more than 100 parliamentary seats have been held by the same party for over a century. Image: Alisdare Hickson / Flickr

More than 100 parliamentary seats across the UK have been held by the same party for over a century, new research by electoral reform campaigners shows.

The Electoral Reform Society says its findings are another example of why the UK’s first past the post system needs replacing with proportional voting.

With trust in politicians at rock bottom, and neither Rishi Sunak or Keir Starmer inspiring the nation, calls for electoral reform have returned ahead of the general election.

Taking into account predecessor constituencies, 111 (17% of total seats) have been held by the same party since at least 1924, the study shows. Those constituencies are home to 8.1 million potential voters.

Meanwhile, 247 seats (38%) have been held by one party for 50 years or more, with 18.1 million potential voters living in these seats.

Of the seats that have not changed hands for 100 years, the Conservatives hold 94 and Labour holds 17.

The longest held seat anywhere is Exmouth and Exeter East (and its predecessors), which has been Conservative since 1835. Yes, eighteen-thirty-five. Labour’s longest held seat is West Ham and Beckton (and its predecessors), which it’s held since 1906.

The Tories don’t support electoral reform, while the Liberal Democrats and the Green Party very much do. But with Labour well ahead in the polls, how likely is it that the party would look to change the voting system? Not very, as it stands. 

While Keir Starmer said in 2020 that “we’ve got to address the fact that millions of people vote in safe seats and they feel their vote doesn’t count”, last year his spokesperson told Byline Times that the Labour leader now opposes proportional representation.

Electoral Reform Society CEO Darren Hughes said: “Elections should be about the whole country. But under the rotten first past the post system the focus is reduced to just the handful of ‘swing seats’ that change hands between parties. 

“With trust in politics at rock bottom, it is imperative that we address the distrust and alienation being caused by the current unfair Westminster voting system.

“The next government must bring in a fairer proportional voting system that ensures every vote counts and parliament accurately represents the way the whole country voted.”

Steve Gilmore from cross-party campaign group Make Votes Matter said safe seats create a culture “of impunity and entitlement”.

He added: “Even now amid talk of a ‘change election’, hundreds of MPs can be confident of keeping their jobs regardless of performance. Not only is this bad for voters, millions of whom will see their votes effectively go to waste, it’s at least in part why politics is not addressing the serious issues facing ordinary people.”

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