Friday, 28 July 2017

What is the UK Electoral System and Does it Need to Change?

Most people I know agree with me that the UK electoral system is a mess. And those who don’t, for the most part, don’t really know what it is.

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So, what is First Past The Post?

  • The country gets split into (currently) 650 constituencies
  • Each constituency elects one person to represent them in Parliament 
  • These representatives make up the House of Commons
  • Each voter gets one vote – sounds pretty equal, right?
  • The winning candidate doesn’t necessarily need a majority, only the most votes out of all the potential candidates
  • Whoever wins a majority (more than half) of seats in the House of Commons then forms a government (having asked the Queen first)

It sounds pretty simple, doesn’t it? Pretty democratic. And it is – to a certain extent.

Before I start having a go at my favourite voting system, take a moment to think about it for yourself. Form an opinion. If you’re from the UK, what have been your experiences with it? Have you been satisfied by the parliaments that have been produced by it? – not necessarily just the policies, but also the representativeness of the Commons for the people who surround you.

When you think about it and look at the stats, FPTP isn’t the best at being representative, in both a constituency and national basis.

Take the constituency of Belfast South, for example. From 2015-2017 the MP (Alasdair McDonnell) had 24.5% of the vote – the smallest percentage of votes a winning candidate received, although I don’t think it was the smallest majority (the number of votes the winning candidate won by), leaving 75.5% of their constituents unrepresented. Not good. In the most recent election, the new MP (Emma Pengelly), received 30.4% of the votes, so an improvement, but still not great. And that’s all down to the fact that to win, the candidate doesn’t need a majority of votes, meaning there could be a single vote between the winning candidate and the runner-up. Now that, to me, does not seem democratic.

What about on a national scale?

The main strengths of FPTP are often portrayed as it is able to consistently produce strong and stable governments (gotta love that catchphrase). And yes, that has been, traditionally, true. We have only had 3 coalitions in the past 100 years (1916-22, the WW2 coalition and 2010-2015) and a few more minority governments (1974, John Major’s became a minority government at the end, and now the 2017 government, to name a few). That sounds pretty stable, but when you consider how strong and stable governments in the last seven years have been, it seems like FPTP’s credibility is beginning to crumble. First, we get a coalition – the sworn enemy of FPTP – a barely stable majority government (with a majority of 6 seats by the end) and a minority government despite a pattern of voting that would suggest an almost two-party Parliament. All in seven years.

FPTP’s tendencies to exaggerate the votes of the two main parties lead to the suppression or manipulation of many voters who really want a different kind of ideology in power. For example, I am a Green Party supporter, however, it is very unlikely that I will ever have a representative who truly suits me unless I move to Brighton. I know many people who campaign for Labour and are ardent supporters of Labour, but have said to me that they would vote Green if they had a realistic chance of winning their seat, which they don’t. Can you imagine what a different Commons we would get if the electorate weren’t forced to tactically vote? And this doesn’t just impact in the Greens, but also the Liberal Democrats, Plaid Cymru, any party who have support but which doesn’t translate to seats in the Commons.

Obviously, no electoral system is perfect, but I think we need a change to mean that the people of the UK are truly represented and the representatives held accountable.

What are your thoughts on First Past the Post? Do you think we need to change? If so, why?

If you liked this post you might like: My Thoughts on the General Election

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