Under First Past the Post, We All Come Second

There is a gaping flaw in the UK election system which desperately needs addressed.  The First Past the Post (FPTP) system through which Westminster politicians are elected is deeply unrepresentative and encourages apathetic MPs.

At first glance, it is a simple and straightforward system. Every citizen gets one vote; each votes for a party within their constituency; whichever party gets the most votes (not a majority, just more than any other) sends one MP to Westminster; the party with the most MPs forms the government.
Underneath this simplicity lurks a flaw in our democracy. FPTP does not fairly represent the opinions of the people. In the 2010 General Election, the Conservatives became the largest party in parliament, winning 47% of the 650 parliamentary seats with only 36.4% of the electoral vote. Labour became the second largest party, with 40% of the seats and just 29% of the vote. While larger parties gained, smaller parties suffered: had the election been run under a representative voting system, the Green parties of the UK would hold five or six seats in Westminster, rather than only one.
The problem gets worse the closer the race becomes. Imagine a constituency election with three roughly equally parties, each receiving roughly 25% of the vote: if one managed to squeeze ahead and win with 26%, they would win the entire seat, and 74% of voters would have an MP who did not share their beliefs. Repeat this across the nation, and it would be possible for a party supported by 25% of the population to have no representatives in parliament.
First Past the Post routinely denies representation for supporters of all but the largest two or three parties.
On the scale of the whole country there is another issue, equally unfair. Either by accident or by design (through gerrymandering) it is possible for some constituencies to have perpetually large majorities for one single party. These are the so-called “Safe Seats.” Since the winner takes all, it becomes pointless for other parties to sincerely contest these seats, and so the quality of opposition eventually drops to the point that the party with the majority can stand almost any candidate and be sure they will win.
This has a corrosive effect on democracy. On average, just 9% of seats change hands during a UK General Election: whomever wins them, wins the election. These “Swing Seats” becomes the only constituencies that matter, and so political parties target their policies to appeal to the voters within them and neglect the rest.
For example, Somerset contains nine of the two hundred seats in the UK most likely to change hands next year. Resources focused there may win more seats, so policy has more impact if made to suit the people living there. Voters in Clydesdale matter little in comparison, and their wants, needs and complaints can be safely ignored.
Even within “Swing Seats,” the threat that the seat and so the nation might be lost to an unwelcome political party causes many people to vote tactically, passing over the smaller parties they prefer to back the least odious party that can win. Little wonder that voter turnout has been declining for decades.
The Scottish Green Party supports a more representative, proportional voting system that allows people to vote for the parties whose policies they prefer without “wasting” their vote. With a proportional vote, the tired old line of “Vote for Us to Keep Out Them,” becomes redundant, and people are free to vote for the party whose policies they approve.
For now, FPTP ensures voters in “Safe Seats” are ignored and taken for granted, while voters in “Swing Seats” are cynically exploited, often frightened into voting for the big parties. The established parties do as they please, and anyone who supports change is disenfranchised.

First Past the Post delivers governments that serve no one. Under it, we all come second.


This article was first published at the Lanarkshire Green Party website: http://www.lanarkshiregreens.org.uk/content/under-first-past-post-we-all-come-second

3 thoughts on “Under First Past the Post, We All Come Second

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