Britain should stick with it’s first past the post electoral system
The United Kingdom uses the first past the post system for electing MPs to the house of commons. The premise of the system is simply that the candidate with the most votes wins the seat in parliament. There have been long standing critics of this system, who advocate using a proportional representation system to elect MPs. In this system a parties number of seats in parliament match their overall share of the vote.
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It is simple
First past the post is by far the easiest electoral system to understand. Voters know that they only need to put one mark on the ballot paper for their preferred candidate. It is also very easy to count votes in this format, allowing for results to be tallied up in a matter of hours and not days which can occur in countries with a PR system.
Proportional Representation is already used at European elections, whilst elections to the Welsh Assembly incorporate a signficant proportional element, with 20 of the Assembly's 60 seats delivered not via FPTP, but on the basis of a party regional list. Likewise, in elections to the Scottish Parliament, an even higher proportion of seats are elected on a proportional basis, whilst in the 2007 local elections, Scotland even utilised the Single Transferable Vote System which is a form of Proportional Representation. Directly elected mayors, such as the Mayor of London, are elected by a Supplementary Vote System, which whilst not proportional as such, is a further move away from FPTP.
In essence, we already embrace PR in this country, in addition to various other voting systems which differ from simple FPTP. This has not been a recipe for confusion and lack of understanding. The case has also not been made for arguing that PR is too complex to elect a Westminster Parliament, but is not too complex for devolved assemblies or European elections.
As for the speed at which a result is declared, democracy is not something that should be sacrificed for the sake of expediency and media headlines - which is the primary reason fast results are desired within the context of a 24 hour rolling news culture. Technology can also speed up the counting process [[http://www.drs.co.uk/Scottish-elections.html]]. Nonetheless, this is only important if one accepts the premise that speed trumps the right of every vote to count, which is questionable at best.
Prevents a ‘tyranny of the minority’
In countries where PR is used, small parties, sometimes on the edges of extremism, have the potential to be cast in the role of kingmaker, where they have a very important and some may say undemocratic part to play in which majority party gets to form the government. Supporters of FPTP would claim that a party that may not even get 10% of the popular vote should never be in this position of power. With FPTP extremist parties such as the BNP find it very hard to win any seats, whereas in a PR system they would have got 1% of seats after their performance in the 2005 general election.[[http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/politics/vote_2005/frontpage/4519347.stm]]
In a true democracy, any viewpoint, no matter how extreme or how much you disagree with it, should be given the chance to express itself.
If a party gains a 10% vote, should they not be entitled to their 10%? After all, the public has voted for them.
As it stands with FPTP, a party with 10% of the support of the population could garner absolutely no seats in Parliament, denying that large minority a say.
Creates strong government
When people vote for a party in an election, they do so with the expectation that if their party of choice forms government, the mandate that they voted for will be implemented. This occurs naturally with FPTP as the new government almost always has a workable majority in parliament, allowing them to implement their mandate fairly easily. In times of crisis, it also means that the government can pass laws quickly and swiftly. In a PR system, because coalitions are usually a necessity this results in compromises being made. Therefore if you voted for a party as a result of its economic policy, then it forms a coalition with another party on the condition that the junior party will get to implement its economic policy and your vote will have in effect been wasted. In a coalition a government will naturally need to gain agreement from all members before passing a law, resulting in decision making being slow and cumbersome, which in times of emergency e.g. a terrorist attack, can make for weak government.
Not everyone values a 'strong government'. There are potentially positive attributes that a government can have as a result of shared power, such as a 'diverse government', an 'understanding government', a 'balanced government' and so forth.
The danger is that winning a majority of the votes creates the illusion of a strong government when it can simply be capricious or plain stupid but still claim a mandate for its actions. Another example of 'might is right'.
Provides a strong link between MP’s and their constituents
In a FPTP system, candidates are elected from a specific geographical region, and the members of parliament represent the cities, towns and villages that elect them. This gives an effective voice in parliament to ordinary people, and when a person needs an issue raised in parliament they are able to write to their MP from their constituency. In PR systems, it is much harder for MPs to represent areas, which makes it harder for people to know who to contact when they have an issue. In FPTP a person is able to vote for an individual rather than a party, which means that a popular independent candidate can be elected due to their individual popularity, such as Martin Bell or George Galloway. In a PR system this would be much harder as people tend to vote for parties and not individuals.
This is turn can result in members of the electorate increasing in turnout as they believe that by voting for someone they believe in rather than a party can have a greater impact on themselves.
Once the MP has got elected there is no sanction to make him/her have any contact with his constituents or even attend Parliament. Until the next election, if they still want the job (expenses).
Tyranny of the majority
In FPTP governments & candidates can be elected with a small percentage of the overall vote. For example in 2005 George polled only 18.4% of the votes from his constituents but still won the seat [[http://www.electoral-reform.org.uk/article.php?id=54]] and in the election as a whole Labours majority rested on winning 36% of the vote from a 61% turnout [[http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2005/may/14/uk.queensspeech2005]] which meant that almost 2/3rds of the population did not want Labour in power. This hardly seems democratic.
PR ensures that votes cannot be wasted.
In a FPTP system people can be put off voting for a party which they may wish to vote for as they perceive them to have very little chance of victory. It also means that all votes for the losing party are effectively wasted. 70% or 19 million votes where wasted this way during the 2005 election. [[http://www.electoral-reform.org.uk/article.php?id=54]]
FPTP can encourage protest voting which in turn can result in smaller parties,such as The Green Party etc. having a higher percentage of seats with the House of Commons.
More choice for the voter
As every vote counts, it is natural that there will be a greater choice of parties for a voter to choose from. In FPTP systems parties need to be ‘broad based’ with various interests all absorbed into one party, but in PR systems the increased number of parties means that a voter will be more likely to find a party that more closely represents their major political convictions.
Sizeable third parties are severely disadvantaged.
In the 1983 general election the liberal SDP Alliance won 25% of the vote but only gained 3% of the seats in parliament [[http://www.electoral-reform.org.uk/article.php?id=54]]. FPTP results in election results which are not a fair and accurate reflection on voters opinions.
The Alternative Vote
Missing from this debate thus far seems to be the "Alternative Vote". Under the Alternative Vote, parties will need a clear majority to win a seat. A choice of preferences will also be allowed, just in case one party has no clear majority, and the opportunity to vote for the leader of the party is also included. There would also be a box which says something along the lines of "none of the above".
This is a far better alternative to Proportional Representation, which often results in a useless, weak governance. It is also far better than First Past the Post, given its obvious and unfair nature.
What do you think?