HIGHER MODERN STUDIES
First-Past-The-Post (Simple Majority)
How the System works:
The current system of electing MPs to the House of Commons is called First-Past-The-Post. There are 646 separate constituencies across the UK each electing one single Member of Parliament. In order to vote you simply put an ‘X’ next to the name of the candidate you support. The candidate who gets the most votes wins, regardless of whether he or she has more than 50% support. Once members have been individually elected, the party with the most seats in Parliament, regardless of whether or not it has a majority across the country, normally becomes the next government.
The system is used for elections to the House of Commons and local elections in the UK an USA, Canada and India.
Arguments used in favour:
• It is simple to understand.
• The voter can express a view on which party should form the next government. • It tends to lead to a two-party system. The system tends to produce single party governments, which are strong enough to create legislation and tackle the country’s problems, without relying on the support of any other party. • It provides a close link between the MP an their constituency. • The system represents the views of the people, as the candidate with the greatest support wins through a fair process. • The UK’s democracy is one of the strongest in the world, it works and – since no system is perfect – why should we go through the massive overhaul of changing?
• Only one MP is elected in each constituency, so all the voters who did not vote for him or her are not represented. Their votes do not help elect anybody and so are wasted, they could have stayed a home and the result would not have been altered. Some argue that this causes low turnout; for example, in 2005 more people did not turn up to vote than voted for the winning party. • In 1997, in Great Britain, 14.7 million voters cast ineffective votes – that is, 48.2% of those who voted. A high proportion of these voters are the same proportion every time; e.g., Conservative voters in Glasgow or Labour voters in the West Highlands. • There is a lack of choice given to voters. The candidates are selected by a small number of party members, and voters can only choose between parties. If the candidate selected for your party has views with which you disagree, you are left with no alternative choice within that party. • It reinforces a two-party system and gives no voice to popular miorities such as the Green Party in Britain. • Voters are represented unequally. In 2005, the national ratio of the number of seats for every 1% of the votes cast was 10.1 for Labour, 6.1 for Conservative and 2.8 for the Lib Dems. • Negative tactical voting can produce disproportionate results. In 1997, Labour and Lib Dem supporters had colluded to vote for whichever of their candidates had the best chance of defeating the Conservatives. The result was that the Conservatives won none of the 72 Scottish seats despite winning 18% of the vote; by contrast, the Lib Dems managed to win 10 seats with only 13% of the votes. • The way the boundaries are drawn can affect the results. Governments are sometimes accused of gerrymandering, adjusting boundaries to influence results. • It produces majority governments with a minority of the votes. In the last three elections, Labour has won clear majorities in the House of Commons with a minority of the national vote (see Case Study below).
Case Study:UK Elections 1997-2005
Seats / 659
Seats / 659
Seats / 646
Results by First-Past-The-Post in recent UK General Elections
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