First Past The Post (FPP) is the system of electing our MPs, and, in England at least, most of our other elected officials. How it works is simple to understand. You are presented with a list of candidates and you put your “X” against the one you dislike the least. After the polls close the votes are counted and the person with the most votes wins. Dead simple, your dog could understand it, so why don’t I like it?
The first reason that I don’t like FPP is that it wastes my vote and thousands of other people’s votes. Where I live, in the area of South London that has Surrey as its postal address, if I vote the way I would naturally, for the Labour Party, my vote is wasted, it has no effect on the result of the election because it is completely outweighed by the Lib Dems and the Tories.
My guess is that roughly 25% of the population, in this area, would normally support the Labour party, about 35% would normally vote Tory and a slightly lesser percentage vote Lib Dem, with the remainder voting UKIP, Green and etc. So one in four of the local constituencies should have a Labour MP, err no…. Either Tory or Lib Dem. Strangely enough the current system probably means that the Lib Dems are over represented in this area due to a lot of Labour and Green supporters voting for them to try to keep the Tories out.
The second reason that I am against FPP is that it creates safe seats, where as the saying goes you could put a pig up as candidate and providing it was wearing the right colour rosette it would be elected. I know much has been written in the past day or two about the demise of the Liberal Democrats in the Barnsley by-election, but it does not disguise the fact that only Labour could win there, and that the winning candidate Dan Jarvis now has a job for life if he wants it. Unless of course he finds himself with same accounting problems that his predecessor encountered. And again how many votes were wasted in this election? I would argue that every vote cast for a candidate other than the winner was wasted and about half the votes that were cast for him. The turn out for the by-election was 36.5% – roughly two-thirds of eligible voters stayed at home. Why? a wet and cold Thursday in early March probably did not help, but largely they stayed at home because the outcome was certain and they felt that it wasn’t worth the effort of going to the polling station.
If we want – and almost every politician of every hue say they want it – increased voter participation then we need an electoral system that makes every vote count for some thing.
The third reason that I am against FPP is that it encourages, even demands, tactical voting. In a two-way marginal seat, the supporters of the minority parties are almost obliged to vote against the candidate they like least, rather than voting for the candidate they like best. This depresses the vote of the minority parties and reduces their voice in the public square. For example at the last general election the green candidate for my constituency was a friend, and while my political leanings tip slightly more toward red than green, under any sensible voting system I would have voted for him, knowing that he would be unlikely to be elected in a single constituency vote, but knowing also that my vote is not wasted as my second and third preference votes, will still count if he is eliminated. This would give not only a fairer system of voting but also a clearer picture of the actual level of support for political parties. What happened in reality, I voted Liberal Democrat in the hope of keeping the Tories out. Which it did in this constituency, but for all the practical good it did the country, I would have been better voting Green.
The fourth reason I am against FPP is that it allows single party majority governments to be formed with considerably less than 50% of the votes cast, let alone the votes of 50% of the electorate at large. Even at its peak in 1997 Labour won 63% of the seats with only 43% of the votes cast. Admittedly the current coalition government took about 59% of the popular vote between the two parties, but this is genuinely the exception that proves the rule.
My conclusion about First Past The Post, it is better than no vote at all, but it is time that we ditched it in favour of a more democratic system that allows all voices to be heard and not just the biggest and loudest ones.