I’ve spoken before on this blog about politics, as I’ve spoken before about the first past the post electoral system, but I’d like to speak about it in more depth. Before I start, here’s an overview of what the first past the post system is:
First Past the Post (FPTP) is the electoral system used to elect MPs to the House of Commons. It is a system in which the winning candidate does not require the majority vote. If a party is able to win over 50% of the seats (326 out of 650) in the House of Commons then the said party wins the election: their leader becomes Prime Minister and they are able to form a government.
Each political party selects one candidate to stand on their behalf alongside independent candidates that do not belong to a party. A person can only vote for one candidate under FPTP and it is conducted using a secret ballot, maintaining anonymity of the vote.
So, what are the advantages of a system like this:
There is only one MP per constituent which means that constituents know who to hold accountable for their representation in the House of Commons.
FPTP is a simple, quick method of voting and an easy way of counting the votes.
A winner’s bonus occurs when FPTP exaggerates the amount of support that the most popular (winning) party received. It can make a minor lead in the percentage of votes represent a large lead in seats, strengthening the legitimacy of the majority party. Because of this, FPTP usually…
Produces a strong majority government
Usually, FPTP produces a single-party majority government who therefore don’t need considerable support from other parties in order to pass their proposed legislation. This means that the government generally works more fluently. However, in some cases, such as in the 2010 General Election, a hung parliament is formed where a majority party is not reached. In 2010, this was solved by a coalition government being formed: Conservative party and the Liberal Democrats joined forces.
Despite the advantages, the outcome of the 2015 General Election has once again exposed the limitations of the FPTP electoral system.
“The fact that we have achieved over one million votes yet not been rewarded with more MPs draws into sharp focus just how unfair and outdated our winner-takes-all voting system is. The fight for a fairer, more democratic voting system – one which recognises the will of the people rather than entrenches the established order – has already begun.” – Natalie Bennett, The Green Party Leader
Let’s take a look at some of the disadvantages of the system:
Whilst the winner’s bonus can prove beneficial in creating a strong government, it can sorely disadvantage minor parties as they are denied the seats they would have been awarded under a proportional system.
Under-represents minor parties
Since the number of votes is not comparable to the number of seats in Parliament, minor parties may not be represented fairly in Parliament despite their number of votes. The system also allows the winning party to not necessarily have the majority of votes. It means that a party that has fewer votes than another can still get more MPs elected and will then have more of a chance of forming a government despite not getting the most votes overall. Let’s take, for example, the results of the 2015 General Election earlier this year:
This election saw the SNP (Scottish National Party) get 58 MPs in Parliament with just 7% of the vote whereas The Green Party got 1 MP with 4% of the vote. Likewise, the Conservative Party won the election and 331 seats with just 36.9% of the votes. That means that less than 40% of the country wanted the Conservative Party in power, which shows cause for the anti-austerity protests earlier this year.
Natalie Bennett described the UK’s electoral system as deeply unfair, calling for a proportional system: “What we need, and what I suspect we’ll see, is a huge public campaign. The Green party, if we did have a proportional system, would have 25 seats,” she told the BBC.
Furthermore, UKIP (UK Independence Party) won 12.6% of the vote but just 1 seat in Parliament. The DUP (The Democratic Unionist Party), on the other hand, won just 0.6% of the vote yet 8 seats in Parliament.
“We gained nearly as many votes as the SNP, the Liberal Democrats and Plaid Cymru added up together,” Nigel Farage of UKIP wrote in the Independent newspaper. “But only one UKIP MP has been returned to the House of Commons – a situation which most reasonable people would realise highlights the flawed nature of Britain’s electoral system.”
“We will hold Parliament to account and push for real reform – starting with proportional representation, for a politics that looks far more like the people it’s supposed to represent. – Caroline Lucas, The Green Party
Can encourage a low turnout
To elect a winning candidate under FPTP, a strong concentrated support is needed. Voters who in safe seats (constituences which usually elect MPs from the same party each election) are arguably less likely to vote if they wish to vote for a party that opposes the general vote of the consistency.
Since a party doesn’t need to receive a majority of votes to win, it poses the question whether or not it has the right to govern. Concerning the 2015 election, there have already been a number of protests nationally opposing to a Conservative government.
Since FPTP requires concentrated and broad support, it usually produces a vote which is between two majority parties that result in taking turns in having a majority of votes and becoming the government. Because of this limited vote, tactical voting is encouraged where a voter votes for another party (generally one of the main parties belonging to the two-party system) in order to defeat the voter’s unfavoured candidate.
For example, it could be argued that the two-party system is currently between the Conservative party and the Labour party. If one opposes to Conservative, they might vote Labour despite their political beliefs lying with the Green party as Labour is more likely to push Conservative out of power. Think of it as voting for the lesser of two evils.
There are many petitions currently circulating to change the electoral system. If you want to help, you can sign this petition by Electoral Reform Society. It only takes a moment to sign and already it has seen thousands of signatures, including those of Alison Thewliss (SNP), Natalie Bennet (Green Party), Sal Brinton (Liberal Democrat) and Nigel Farage (UKIP).
What are your thoughts on the current electoral system? Do you think the UK should keep FPTP? Do you think we should switch to the Alternative Vote? Or the proportional representation system? Let me know your thoughts in the comment section below.
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