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Advantages and Disadvantages of the First Past the Post electoral system

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The UK electoral system is run by the First Past the Post system, voting takes place in single-member constituencies. Voters put a cross in a box next to their favoured candidate and the candidate with the most votes in the constituency wins. The advantages of using a First Past the Post system are as follows: Firstly, the system is simple and easy for constituents to understand because you only have one box to tick. By having to only tick one box, voters can clearly express which party they would prefer to form a government. Also, having had this system for a long time now ensures that the public have confidence in this system and if the system was changed to be any further complex this could run the risk of reducing turnout at elections and the general election turnout is low already at 65% in 2010. In addition to this, it makes it easier to count the votes so the turnaround on the results is in hours rather than using a Proportional Representation system which would take days to process results.

According to Duverger’s Law, elections structured within single-member districts tend to favour a two party system. This is the case for the First Past the Post system of voting. This is beneficial because two party systems tend to lead to single party governments (prior to the 2010 Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition). This is good for the single party in government because they would not have to compromise policies with the other party or rely on support from other parties to pass legislation. Another advantage would be that the system encourages ‘Broad-Church’ centrist policies rather than radical ones that only a small percentage of the country would agree with.

Due to the system requiring single member constituencies there are more constituencies than if there were a Proportional Representation system in place, there is a close geographical link between voters and their members of parliament and that they are accountable for the laws that affect their area. It is clear to constituents who is the person responsible for them and their needs in parliament, and it is also clear for them who to ask if they have enquiries or need assistance for a particular issue whereas if there were a Proportional Representation system then they would have more than one MP to choose from and this could cause confusion. Lastly, the utilisation of the First Past the Post system can potentially keep costs lower for smaller parties who may not have much money to spend on advertisement. If we had multimember constituencies it would be much more difficult for any smaller parties to win constituencies because they would be considerably larger than single member constituencies.

The first disadvantage of using the First Past the Post system is representatives can be elected with small amounts of public support, with this system a candidate only needs to get more votes than the other candidates to win the seat. An example of this would be in the 2010 General Election in the constituency of Warwickshire North, the Conservatives gained 40.2% of the vote and Labour gained 40.1%, the difference between the votes was 54 votes and because the Conservatives gained slightly more, they won the seat, this is undemocratic because 40% of the people in that constituency voted for a different member and the results were incredibly close.

Secondly, using this system encourages tactical voting where constituents vote against the candidate whose party they most dislike in order to keep their party out of government. For example if I lived in a marginal constituency swinging between Labour and the Conservatives, I support UKIP and I am also euro sceptic so I would rather the government was Conservative rather than Labour. In this case I would vote Conservative so as to ensure my vote was not wasted on a party that would not have a chance of winning the constituency. Single member constituencies encourage wasted votes due to them, unless they are marginal seats, being stable for a particular party for example my constituency North Thanet has had the same Conservative MP since 1983.

Smaller parties can be excluded from fair representation for example 10% of the votes should win 10% of the seats however the First Past the Post system does not work like this, an example of this was in the 2005 general election the Democratic Unionist Party won nine seats with 0.9% of the vote whereas the Greens won no seats despite receiving nearly 16,000 more votes than the DUP.

Encouraging two party politics can be an advantage but on the other hand having a strong party such as the Liberal Democrats, they are at a disadvantage with this system seeing as in the 2010 general election they came second in over 200 constituencies but they do not have the funding so are not able to concentrate their advertising on just a few seats because there are so many of them, on the other hand the conservatives are able to concentrate their promotional activity on less than 80 marginal seats. Lastly, using the First Past the Post voting system restricts the choice of candidate and the representation of women and ethnic minorities is reduced.

To take all the points into account, the advantages are that it is a simpler system, opinions can be clearly expressed, tends to produce a two party system which is better for governments that are formed and costs are kept down for smaller parties. The disadvantages are that representatives can be elected with small amounts of public support, large numbers of votes are wasted, tactical voting is encouraged, two party systems can be difficult for 3rd parties like the Liberal Democrats and the choice of candidate is restricted meaning that the representation of women and ethnic minorities is diminished. In my opinion, the electoral system should stay the same because the public have faith in the current system; it is simple and clear so they understand how it works. It is better for the government to keep the current system because if it changed then turnout could become lower than it already is.

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