A Level Politics

Improving your grade

The death-knell of first-past-the-post?

Posted by Matt Walker on April 26, 2010

All of this talk about a hung parliament is making me giddy. Every year I teach electoral systems almost apologetically, as students wade through the advantages and disadvantages of first-past-the-post (FPTP), weighed against the options for reform. Thanks to the current election campaign, electoral reform is so sexy it might even make its way into Hello! Magazine.

The current debate being played out in the campaign is worth paying attention to, as it really does illuminate the pros and cons of the electoral reform debate. The Conservative argument is that a hung parliament will be indecisive, lead to instability in government, chaos on the financial markets, and an inability of government to take firm action and make decisions. Ironically, David Cameron has been forced into talking about the decisiveness of FPTP because there might be a hung parliament. In other words, because FPTP isn’t always decisive!

The Liberal Democrats have understandably been rather scathing about FPTP. They have complained that it would be ludicrous if Labour were to come third in the popular vote, but first in seat distribution. In other words, FPTP is not electorally representative and sometimes produces bizarre results. It also, according to Nick Clegg, is a system which props up the  two “old parties” and limits voter choice. Interestingly, several people I have talked to do refer to their vote being ‘wasted’ because they live in a particular constituency.

Whether the Conservatives like it or not, the British public no longer want the two-party system which is delivered by FPTP. In fact, over the past 30 years or more, the combined Tory-Labour vote has been declining. And if opinion polls are remotely accurate, the public will actually vote for a three-party system on May 6th. Perhaps electoral reform is unavoidable.

What do you think? What are the key points for you?

Q&A: Calls to change the UK  voting system

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