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The House of Commons is currently
elected using the ‘First Past the Post’ electoral system whereby the candidate
in each constituency with the most votes becomes a member of parliament for
said area. There is a total of 650 seats which make up parliament, the majority
winners of the election then form the government. The current process is a
plurality voting method described as a “winner takes all” style of election. It
could be argued however, that this system is unfair. Many people are opposed to
this particular voting method as they think the system can be unfair on smaller
parties and even undemocratic. This essay will explore these arguments and
review the findings.

The first argument in favour of
proportional representation is that it gives smaller parties a chance to get
their policies and ideals heard. Under the current First Past the Post system
it can be nearly impossible for smaller parties to get a say despite amassing a
large number of votes. We can see a perfect example of this is in the 2017
General election: UKIP and The Green Party scored 1,118,456 votes (3.48% of the
total electorate) in this election and between them only had one seat to show
for it. To further this argument, it could be claimed that this system is
entirely undemocratic. After we take in to consideration the above statistic
and compare it with the Scottish National Party’s results, a mere 977,568 votes
(3.04%) amassed them a huge 35 seats. Even the Democratic Unionist Party
secured 10 seats at the same election with 292,316 votes (0.91%). There is
certainly a strong case against First Past the Post here when so many votes
appear to be going to waste.

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The second argument
in favour of proportional representation is that it would be far more representative
than our current system. Much of the time MPs can be elected on small
proportions of the vote of they simply win the most votes amongst a fragmented
field. In 2015 Belfast South was won with just 9,560 votes, or 24.5% of the
total, a record low. In general elections since 1955 the UK turnout has never
reached over 80% and since 2001 it hasn’t even touched 70%. So why is this so
low? Well it could be largely down to the number of people who live in ‘safe
seat’ constituencies. Many people feel there is no point in voting as their
vote will make no difference. This leads to a large amount of political apathy
and disinterest in politics. Those who feel this way are likely to change their
mind and go out to vote in future because their party will be represented
proportionally and they feel their vote will hold more weight. It is certainly
worth noting that 225 constituencies have had the same party representing them
since 1950.

The final case for
proportional representation is its success in other democracies worldwide. This
system has been adopted in Belgium, Denmark, Finland, Greece, Hungary, Israel, Italy,
Luxembourg, Norway, Russia, Spain, Sweden, and Switzerland
where it has been successful since its inception. If we analyse the Swiss
system, a more unique take on proportional representation as they have almost
created a hybrid which is basically a proportional election system moulded in
a unique way so that it features the essential positive aspects of
the majority election system while avoiding its fundamental
drawbacks. The UK could perhaps learn a thing or do from this system. The Swiss
have a ‘cancelling’ feature on the ballot which enables voters to strike off
certain candidates they don’t like and whilst this won’t affect the party’s
numbers as such it can help prevent extremist candidates coming in to any kind
of power which is one of the concerns regarding switching to proportional
representation. The next stage of the Swiss system is called cumulating where a
process begins of adding candidates to the vote once their opponents have been
cancelled. This makes it possible for a candidate to be put on a list twice,
enhancing the likelihood they’ll get elected. The UK could potentially take
this system and create one that would work in this country but it would take
some serious thinking from the government plus a lot of analysis from
mathematicians. The obvious downside is this is a very complicated thing to get
right and with voter participant numbers low already- any kind of complicated
hybrid would probably make people more “fed up” with politics. If anything, the
UK should be trying to simplify the political process to get more people
involved as that, after all is the core democratic feature.

The first argument for keeping the
First Past the Post system comes from the fear of weak government. It could be
argued that after the 2010 election, the Conservative party leader David
Cameron and the Liberal Democrat party leader, Nick Clegg spent far too much
time in a policy making ‘tug – of – war’ which will have done no good for the
Country whatsoever. It took the above coalition a week to arrange their policy
ideas. Whilst this could be considered a short amount of time; it is still a
week where parliament is completely unrepresentative of the people and leaves
the government particularly vulnerable. We must also consider that this was a
coalition of only 2 parties. Any coalition with several parties will only take
longer to sort out. We have seen examples of this elsewhere in Europe for
example, as I write this Angela Merkel of Germany is trying to break a deadlock
of 3 months on coalition talks. We can see the issues the German parties are
arguing over, everything from tax rates to emission targets so this suggests it
could be wise to keep the First past the post system in place. The fear of more
situations like this and the legislative paralyses that accompanies it will
surely see the Government weakened and unable to push through key, bold changes
for the good of the democracy they serve. Many active political commentators
regularly talk about the dangers of coalition and the susceptibility the
leaders face. We can see how this has affected the Liberal Democrats who made
it their goal to ensure electoral reform of the electoral system and made other
vital pledges such as the scrapping of university tuition fees but due to the
constraints placed upon them by the conservative party were unable to keep this
promise and many others which led to a fall to a mere 8 seats in the 2015
General Election compared to the impressive 57 which helped them force their
way in to number 10 in 2010. 

The second concern
of abandoning the First Past the Post system in favour for PR would be losing the
close bond an MP builds up with his or her constituency. Many MPs are known for
getting involved in the local community and they help support certain ventures
that they may not have the time to do if they are competing against other
representatives in their constituency. For example, Bournemouth West MP, Conor
Burns supported a big push on apprenticeships in 2014 which saw them being
offered by many local and multi- national businesses based in Bournemouth.  When a constituency has one MP, people know
who to write to, complain to and lobby for issues meaningful to the local
community and without that link it is increasing likely candidates will be more
concerned about getting their voices heard in Parliament rather than helping to
sort out key local issues. To further this argument, we can look at the turnout
figures for the 2014 European parliament election (only 35%). Some 20 parties
received a share of the vote but none of them clocked up enough votes to take
any seats. This shows the PR system to be indecisive and non- clinical. Another
reason for this low turnout is that people in the UK are used to dealing with a
voting system that elects their local MP and maintains a single member
constituency. When you add the possibility of multi-member constituencies,
people don’t know who to approach.

There is
undoubtedly an issue of accountability with coalition governments. If the
electorate are unable to read a manifesto and elect a government based upon
what they have read, then some will ask where does the buck stop? If a smaller
party promises certain things and then after negotiations is unable to deliver
those things, whose fault, is it? It could be argued that it’s not the party’s
fault as they have less seats and less influence than the bigger parties.
However, if a voter is voting for a party or person based on a certain policy
and then just relying on their negotiating skills this isn’t really a vote for
anything at all. The Liberal Democrat’s in 2010 is good example of this once more.
All those that voted for their policies were left in un represented after all.

The final concern
of proportional representation is that it will be a lot easier for extremist
parties to get in power. The current process acts as a buffer against extremism
and protects the common sense of the many from the naivety of the few. A
perfect example of this can be seen in the 2010 election when the questionable
views of the British National Party became prominent in British media. The BNP
clocked up 564,331 votes- more than big political rivals such as UKIP, The
Green Party, and the Scottish National Party. Despite this relative success
among the electorate, the BNP gained 0 seats so no MPs were able to speak in
the House of Commons. If the system of proportional representation had been in
place- it is feasible that these extreme views could play a part in the day to
day running of the United Kingdom. In addition to the statement made
previously, we must also consider that this type of democracy is one of the main
reasons to make the switch to PR

In conclusion,
there are a number of arguments for moving towards the proportional voting
system. We can see from the examples above that it leads to many more voices
being heard and it is certainly apt to suggest that once implemented, the
turnout would rise due to fewer people thinking their votes are wasted. However,
whilst the First Past the Post system clearly isn’t perfect it does provide
close links between MPs and constituents, it also provides a stable government
process and helps to buffer extremism. These values are the back bone of
British politics and any move away from First Past the Post would see these
compromised. Furthermore, we would be amiss not to consider the affect First Past
the Post has on stable government. As we saw in the 2014 elections, Proportional
Representation doesn’t always have the desired effect. If the United Kingdom
were to consider changing the way we vote, perhaps following the Swiss hybrid
system is the way we should go as it is likely to increase voter turnout and
give more people/ parties a chance in elections whilst defending the core
values of a country.


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