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Former headteacher's hunger strike as part of voting change campaign

By David Parker

Keith Atkinson
Keith Atkinson

A former headteacher is taking part in a 24-hour hunger strike today to campaign for a reformed voting system.

Mr Keith Atkinson, 80, of Newark Road, Southwell, is eating nothing for 24 hours as part of a national campaign calling for the introduction of proportional representation.

Hundreds are taking part in the hunger strike across the country including prominent figures such as Labour MP Stephen Kinnock, Guardian journalist Polly Toynbee and former Green Party leader Natalie Bennett.

The strike, dubbed Hungry for Democracy, is taking place 100 years to the day since some women first won the vote.

Mr Atkinson, a former headteacher of Tuxford School, said the current first-past-the-post system, which is used to elect MPs to Parliament, meant that many votes had no impact.

He said: "Newark is a great example. It's really a Tory fiefdom which means large numbers of people - Labour, Liberal Democrat and UKIP - don't get a say and it's a wasted vote for them.

"It must be very frustrating and I share that frustration.

"I have never voted for the winning candidate in the area I live, which is wrong really.

"It feels like I'm not in the electoral system, whereas with proportional representation, where you can vote for more than one candidate, you would have that opportunity."

Mr Atkinson, who supports the Liberal Democrats, said he preferred a Single Transferable Vote (STV) system whereby voters have the option of ranking as many candidates as they like.

Under the system, a constituency would be represented by more than one MP and each one would have to meet a certain quota to get elected.

Candidates with the fewest first preference votes would be eliminated and people who voted for them would have their other preferences counted towards other candidates until they met the quota. The process would continue until enough MPs had been elected.

'We are not where we should be'

Mr Atkinson said he was proud to be taking part in the national campaign as he felt he was a part of history.

He said: "It's taken a long time to get the voting system to where we are now, and even now, I believe we are not where we should be.

"I did history at university so I can look back at the Chartist movement, the Suffragettes and even the Jarrow marchers and it's only by being active and getting out there that you bring about change."

Mr Atkinson, who has multiple sclerosis, said taking part in the fast was his way of campaigning as he would not be able to take part in any kind of march.

He said: "I'm hoping it will make an impact because more and more politicians are coming round to the idea of proportional representation.

"First past the post, for the last three elections, hasn't worked and the argument that we can have strong and stable leadership just doesn't hold water.

"I would be surprised if the current Government introduced proportional representation but I would like it."

Marianne Overton, an independent councillor who represents Bassingham and Welbourn on Lincolnshire County Council, is also taking part in the hunger strike.

The Make Votes Matter campaign, which organised the strike, said on its website: "We're hunger striking to draw attention to the injustice of a voting system that denies representation to millions, returns Parliaments that don't reflect the voters, and gives us governments that most of us didn't vote for.

"We're calling for proportional representation, so that seats match votes and everyone has a vote that matters equally."


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