‘Should the current Westminster system of First Past The Post as used For General Elections for the House of Commons Be reformed?’

4 Aug

For this essay I am going to answer the above question to the best of my ability, as an introduction I am going to list and give a breif explanation of the key terms used in this essay :-

-           Electoral mandate – this refers to the authority to govern granted to the winning party at a general election by  the voters themselves.

-           Electoral system – a system that converts votes to elections to seats.

-           Reform – a change to a particular system which is wanted by the people.

 

 

FPTP is a majoritarian system –this basically means a simple majority is needed to win. It is founded upon OP OV OV – One person, One Vote and One Value but as you will find during this essay this foundation doesnt seem to be the truth and it seems that the OP OV OV basis is used incorrectly.

 

Like any electoral system FPTP has its advantages and Disadvantages in this paragraph I am going to name some of these and give a breif explanation of what is meant. For this section I am going to start with the Disadvantages :-

-           The seats which a party wins in the legislature doesnt proportianally reflect the number of votes a party recieves and this therefore leads to over and under representation so it is therefore unfair to smaller parties.

-           Large parties i.e. Labour (Lab.G/E 2005. 35.2% of Vote and 54.9% of seats won) are systematically over-represented whereas smaller parties i.e. Libral Democrats (Lib Dems. G/E 2005. 22.0% of Vote and 9.7% of seats won) are systematically under represented.

-           These above points create an impotent opposition who cant properly challenge the government.

-           FPTP also under represents women (with only 11 Women MP’s standing in the House or Commons) and minority groups.

-           FPTP also creates wasted votes ( i.e. Rotherham which is a safe Labour seat – there is tatically no point of voting Conservative or Lib Dem here as as a whole the constuency is a safe Labour seat with many voting for Labour – these safe seats are creating lots of wasted votes)

Even though FPTP does have its disadvantages we need to also remember that it does have its strengths and these are listed below:-

-           Produces a majority government by this I mean that the government:-

-           Usually have a strong mandate for Policy and Action.

-           Can be held accountable by the voters.

-           Maintains a close MP-Constituency link.

-           Its a simple system that is easy to understand.

-           Easy to find a winner and

-           It creates a strong and stable, one party government who have a clear mandate based on its manifesto.

 

There is a Jenkin’s report which shows us both the advanages and disadvantages of all the proposed systems including that of First Past The Post. He points out that FPTP has a strong link between MP and constituency, and that usually one party gets a majority and this leads to a strong government. He also points out the disadvantages which are that there is no absoloute link between votes and seats won.

 

Now I am going to list the alternative systems that Jenkins proposes – I am going to start with the Single Transferable vote which is used in The Republic of Ireland, Australian Senate and the Northen ireland Assembly.  In the STV the constituencies are 5 times larger than there current size and they have more than one member each and the voters rate their candidate in order of preferance e.g. 1,2,3,4,5 instead of an ‘x’. This total number of votes is then divided by the number of seats +1 and this produces a winning threshold which a candidate must pass to win. The adavatage of this system is that the voters are most likely going to get a least one MP that they wanted. The disadvantages are that its only proportional within a constituency and not nationwide and that its a very complex system.

The second system he proposes is an Additional Member System which is used in Germany, New Zeland, Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly. In this the voter has two votes – one for the normal constituency which are elected using the FPTP system and the other is used for the List system. Parties are then given extra MP’s to ‘top up’ their party in parliament until their number of seats are equal to the number of votes they recieved. The advantages of this system is that it maintains the MP – constituency link and it is also proportional while doing this. The disadvantages being it could give third parites an unfair influence by giving them the balance of power and also it is tough for one government to rule.

Jenkins also proposes the AV (Alternative Vote ) this is used in the Australian House Of Representatives. In this system the voter in order of preference (1,2,3,4) and if no candidate gets a majority (over 50%)  then the person with the least votes has their vote recollected according to the 2nd preference votes and this will continue until a winner is found.

 

It is important to point out that using most of these systems labour would still be the overall winner but these systems propose a much fairer system as the votes are mostly propotional to the seats, unlike the FPTP system where there is no direct link between votes and seats won.

 

 

What is my view on reform?

-           Taking into account the strengths and weaknesses of the current FPTP electoral system I feel that Westminster should reform the FPTP system as I feel that the system itself is fundamentally unfair as it has no direct link between % 0f votes recieved and % of seats won by the party. Take the 2005 General Election for example – Labour got 35.2% of the vote, 54.9% of the seats won and and 355 seats altogether when you compare this with the Conservatives results you can see a serious case of over representation on Labours account and a serious case of under representation on the Conservatives account. The conservatives in turn recieved 32.4% of the vote (this is only 2.8% less than labours 35.2%) and yet they only recieved 30.7% of the seats ( which is a massive 24.2% lower than % or Labour seats won) to me this seems unfair as the Conservatives were only 2.8% behind Labour in the % of votes recieved. This therefore shows that there is no direct link between % of vote recieved and % of seats won. This case of over and under representation can question labours electoral mandate – do they have the authority? – this is why I feel that Westminster should reform the current electoral system.

Which system do I suggest?

-           For an electoral system i feel that we need one which has proportional representation and I feel that the Party List system is the better choice as it is aimed at securing a close representational match between %of vote recieved and % of seats won and this is the main reason why I support the Party List system as I feel that overall it will represent all the parties fairly. Yes the Party List system does have its disadvantages but what we need to remember is that there is no perfect electoral system, we simply have to choose the one system that benifits the country and its people the most.

This was an essay that I wrote for my AS Level politics class in 2009

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