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Westminster Electoral System

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  • Pages: 4
  • Word count: 913
  • Category: Election

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Westminster is the location of the Houses of Parliament, where the majority of political decisions (other than those for devolved states) are made for the nation. The current Westminster electoral system is First Past the Post (FPTP) which is used for general elections every 5 years (due to the new fixed-term parliaments brought in by the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition.) The FPTP system is constituency based, each person votes for a representative for their constituency and whichever party wins the most constituencies gains governmental power. First Past the Post works on the basis of a plurality of votes, that is, that the winning party need only gain the most votes out of all parties to gain power, they do not need an overall majority (50%+.) The need for a strong and stable government is through the need for a government to easily be able to pass legislation and for them to be able to withstand a full term in office. The FPTP system firstly creates a strong government as it greatly reduces the risk of coalition governments. Single party governments are strong as they have a majority of seats within the House of Commons which means it is easy for the party to pass legislation and make decisions.

As the winning party in an election only needs a plurality of votes to win constituencies and so gain a majority in the House of Commons, it is easy for a single party to gain substantial political power. Coalition governments are however, weak and ineffective as there are two parties conflicting desires to be weighed up, this means that the passing of legislation can take a long time and mean that some parties may not get what they had wished to carry out in their manifesto, which will lose them popularity with the public. In FPTP there have only been two coalitions in the last 70 years, which shows its ability to create majority party governments, this means that generally the party with the best policies (in the voter’s eyes) will be able to pass these policies easily and quickly which will also increase their popularity. Other electoral systems, such as the Single Transferable Vote system have a high risk of creating coalition governments which would be unable to pass policies and so in this sense, the FPTP system ensures not only strong government but is also better than other systems at doing so.

The First Past The Post system’s ability to create single party governments therefore means that that government will be stable and cohesive. Within parties the majority of people have shared political ideologies and ideas and so the party elected to government will be able to make decisions quickly and efficiently as everyone will be aiming towards shared goals or desires for policies. The governing party will be loyal to their traditional or modern ideologies and will have decided upon one set of policies in their manifesto before the election and so they will not need a large amount of discussion and debate before policies are passed. All members of the party will be subject to the same party disciplines so they will all be following the same rules and working together which again ensures that the government is stable. A stable government means that parties can pass their desired policies quickly which will be beneficial to the public as they will feel that the party is doing their role correctly and efficiently. If a governing party were to not be stable then it may affect their future election prospects as the public are unlikely to vote in a party that they have previously seen as unstable.

First Past The Post creates a majority government through a plurality of votes which means that other parties that have had almost the same amount of votes as the winning party do not get their views across in parliament as easily even though nearly the same amount of the public voted for them. For example, in the 1974 General Election, the Labour party gained government with 301 seats (and 37.2% of the votes), but the Conservatives (37.9% of the votes) gained only 5 less seats than Labour and so did not have a parliamentary majority. This election result means that Labour could much more easily pass all of their policies than the Conservatives even though the Conservatives gained almost the same number of seats and a larger percentage of votes. How is it possible that this electoral system creates a government that does not even have the highest percentage of votes and leaves out all other parties with any fewer votes?

This system therefore cannot create strong governments as they do not have an overall majority in parliament and so will find it difficult to pass their policies as easily as in a system where the governing party has a definite 50%+ of the seats in parliament. In October 1974 another election was called and Labour again won a small majority, political stability was not regained until the landslide election of Margaret Thatcher in 1983. In conclusion, the Westminster electoral system has the ability to create strong and stable governments, it’s creation of coalition governments is rare and so weak governments are unlikely although not impossible. The need for only a plurality of votes means that elections can be incredibly close and this is likely to make a government less strong but still stronger than if a coalition was made.

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