Should the Westminster Electoral System be reformed?

 

The electoral system used in the Westminster Elections is First Past The Post. There are various reasons why the electoral system in Westminster should be reformed as First Past the Post has both advantages and disadvantages to it. I will evaluate some of these reasons for and against the reform of the First Past The Post system.

It can be said that First Past The Post is an unfair electoral system. This is because it is a “plurality” system, which means that a candidate does not need to achieve an absolute majority (50% or more) to be elected. It is simply the candidate with the largest percentage of votes. One example of where this happens was in the 2010 election. The Conservative Party won 36.1% of the vote and were elected, even though the Labour Party won 29% of votes and the Liberal Democrats won 23% of the votes. It is for this reason that the electoral system of Westminster can be described as being unfair as the winner is not necessarily the most popular vote.

One good thing about the First Past The Post system is that it makes it increasingly difficult for extremist parties to rise to power. This is because that support for these types of parties is not normally concentrated in one area, which is needed if they are to win any seats, and therefore any influence in the House of Commons. Unless an extremist minority party’s electoral support is geographically concentrated, it is unlikely to win any seats under FPTP. This was demonstrated in the 2010 election when the British National Party (BNP) won 1.9% of the vote, however it did not win any seats in the House of Commons as their votes were spread nationally.

Another issue with the current electoral system is that it leaves a large number of wasted votes that do not go towards the election of any candidate. This is largely due to widespread but not concentrated votes for minority parties, as they do not have “safe seats” (areas where their supporters are concentrated). This can lead to minority party supporters in the region may beginning to feel that they have no realistic hope of ever electing a candidate of their choice. This can lead to problems like tactical voting. It can also cause problems as it can increase the likelihood of extremist parties being able to mobilize anti-system movements. For example in the 1997 UK general election, Bruce Kent set up GROT – Get Rid Of Them – a tactical voter campaign whose sole aim was to help prevent the Conservative Party from gaining a 5th term in office. Whilst it would be hard to prove that GROT swung the election itself, it attracted significant enough media attention at the time and brought tactical voting into the public eye.

Undeniably the First Past The Post system gives rise to single-party governments. This means that coalition governments are the exception rather than the rule. Therefore the FPTP system could be said to provide more stable governments as they are not being restrained by a minority coalition partner. If a party is in a coalition they have to compromise on policies – thus making it hard to have clear-cut legislature as they may not agree on what should or should not be implemented. This is shown in our current government – a coalition of the Conservative Party and the Liberal Democrats – as in 2011 the Liberal Democrats were forced to concede their original policy that they would not raise student tuition fees as the Conservative’s outnumbered their vote.

The First Past The Post system can lead to a two-party race. This is usually as a result of tactical voting – when members of the electorate support a candidate other than his or her sincere preference in order to prevent an undesirable outcome. This is criticized for downplaying alternative views as the two-party race does not include minority parties such as UKIP. Although the Westminster Elections do have more than two parties running for office it can be described as being a two-party system as the two most prominent parties are Labour and Conservative, they are the only two parties to have been in office since 1918.

Finally, it promotes a link between constituents and their representatives, as representative are in control of set areas. Elected members represent defined areas of cities, towns, or regions rather than just party labels. It can be argued that this ‘geographic accountability’ is particularly important in society. The FPTP system also allows the chance for popular independent candidates to be elected. This means that the representatives, whilst having a say in the House of Commons, is ultimately there to look after its constituents. For example in 2006 Dai Davies (the MP for Blaenau Gwent, Wales) was elected despite not representing a particular political party.

To conclude, I do not believe that the electoral system for the Westminster Elections should be reformed because although it has a number of disadvantages, the numerous advantages outweigh these. I think it to be important that extremist parties should be kept at bay from possible positions of power and that although the FPTP System could be described as a two-party race I think that having experience is important when coming into a position of power – something that minority parties do not have. Also whilst tactile voting is a problem in First Past the Post, we must remember that voting is not compulsory in the United Kingdom and if members of the electorate believe that their

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