Britain is in desperate need of electoral reform

Britain uses the First Past the Post electoral system to elect a Government and legislature. The country is divided up into 659 single member constituencies, each with one seat in the House of Commons, to which an MP is elected using a majoritarian system. This means that the candidate who gains the most votes in that constituency wins the seat in Parliament. Some people argue that this is a good electoral system because it produces a definite winner. However by definition, Democracy means rule by the people, therefore if everyone does not have an equal say to some extent, then it is undemocratic.

FPTP is a simple plurality system which means there is no quota that has to be reached to become the MP for that constituency, there need only be a one vote difference. This can cause problems because if an MP did only win by a small number of votes, then that would mean the other MP must have had a lot of support to and therefore a large amount of the population in that constituency are going unrepresented. Due to the low turnouts at British elections, which is sometimes as low as 60%, this could mean that a huge proportion of that constituency has no say in their own rule.

A system which does take into consideration the vote of the majority is the Alternative Vote system which is used in Australia. AV uses a similar system to FPTP as the electorate votes for an MP in their constituency, but, in order to be elected, the MP must receive at least 50% of the vote. Voters also make second and third choices and if no MP reaches the quota, the MP with the least votes is eliminated and the voter's second choice is counted instead. This continues until one MP has 50% + 1 vote, in which case they become the MP for that constituency.

This is much more representative than FPTP as this system elects a candidate who has the majority of that constituency's support. It is also easier to show preferences to your best and worst candidate which means, there would be an easier way to vote tactically while getting your first preferences across too. It also sustains the link between MP and constituency, meaning people feel more involved with the elected party. There are, however, some disadvantages as well, such as it is time consuming, exaggerates any fickle change in public opinion and it is similarly disproportional to FPTP.

Although there is a committee set up to ensure boundaries evenly divide up the country, so that there is an equal amount in each constituency, this is not always easy due to the different density in population. For example, the Isle of Wight has a population of 106,000 voters whereas the Western Isle only has 22,000, which means one party may have an advantage due to how evenly their support is spread throughout the country. The FPTP system is also susceptible to Gerrymandering, as is shown in Londonderry in Ireland.

Londonderry is a mainly Catholic town, but the large Catholic area is only one constituency, whereas the smaller Protestant area has been split into three constituencies to give the Protestants more seats in Parliament. In Scotland and Wales, they have an average of 14,000 less voters in their constituencies than in England, which means that compared to England, they are overrepresented and therefore in a union with England they would feel underrepresented. These inequalities in constituencies mean that all of the electorate's votes are not equal.

A voter in a smaller constituency has much more say in who gets elected than a voter in a large constituency, due to the insignificance of one person in one hundred thousand others. Also, a vote for a losing candidate becomes a wasted vote because it does not count towards getting anyone elected, and once the winning candidate has gained one more vote than his opponents, the rest of the votes are then wasted as well. In 2001, according to the Electoral Reform Society, an astonishing 70. 3% of the popular vote was wasted in one of these two ways.

Furthermore, many of the seats are considered 'safe' by certain parties and do not normally 'change hands' from one election to another, which adds to the wasted votes, as this is so consistent. Also due to this consistency, parties can decide who's going to sit in Parliament for that constituency and can choose MPs who are more loyal to the party, without worrying too much about public image. Only 114 seats were estimated to be uncertainties between Labour and the Conservative's in 2001.

This could contribute to an apathetic attitude amongst the electorate, as, if people don't believe that their vote counts, they won't bother voting at all, which could contribute to an even lower turnout. Single Transferable vote, however, is a proportional representation system which means that the number of votes an MP gets is proportional to the number of seats they win. This system uses fewer, larger multimember constituencies and voters, again, number the candidates in order of preference.

A special 'droop quota' is devised which means the seats are proportional to the number of votes they receive and if no one reaches this quota the bottom candidate is eliminated and the voter's second choice is taken into account. This is repeated until someone reaches that quota. If someone receives more than their quota in first choices, then the 'spare' votes are given to the second choice until all the seats are filled. This system is better than FPTP because the voters can choose from a number of candidates within one party which means they have more choice and it is proportional, ensuring that all votes are of relatively equal value.

It also prevents parties with no majority from getting elected, as the party must have 50% of the votes to win the election. Unfortunately, this encourages coalition Governments which are weaker and can include smaller parties, giving them disproportional power to their popularity. Another disadvantage is that, due to the multimember constituencies, the voters are not as closely linked to their MPs and this system is not as efficient in translating votes as others are.

The FPTP system in England caters for a two party system, favouring the Conservatives and especially, Labour and condemning such parties as the Liberal Democrats to a consistent third place. It is very advantageous to parties that have strong nationwide support in certain areas and does not allow smaller parties, whose support is spread thinly over a large area to gain a significant number of seats, for example the SDP, allied with the Liberal Democrats, won a quarter of the votes in 1983 and only 23 seats in Parliament. They were only 2. 2% behind Labour and yet 186 seats behind them in The House of Commons.

The Liberal Democrats support then fell by 16. 8% but they actually gained 26 seats, which demonstrates that not only is this system biased, it also works out backwards in some cases. This could add to tactical voting as voters who support a small party, which has no chance of winning might think that their vote won't make any difference and not bother voting at all. Oppositely, they could try and use their vote to prevent their least favourite of the most popular parties from getting into power by voting for their nearest competitor. This is, therefore, not their true opinion and means they are going unrepresented.

There is definite discrimination against such third parties as shown by these figures of the composition of the House of Commons; in 1945 there was only 10 seats held by third party members, moving to 49 in 1974 and finally 80 in 2001. It is easier for minor parties to gain representation if their support is concentrated in particular regions, than it is for a party with a larger, more widely spread support. The SNP and Plaid Cymru are the main parties of Scotland and Wales and they consistently win seats in Parliament in their own constituencies as they do not compete for popularity in a large area such as England.

Plaid Cymru has more voice in Parliament than their vote presidented due to one of their main policies being to preserve the Welsh language and their campaigning being concentrated in Welsh speaking areas. FPTP is restrictive in this way as it prevents parties from having any ambition to try and gain more seats than they are used to getting and it also acts as a deterrent to MPs who may want to form their own party, as they know there is no chance to influence a big enough amount of people to win more seats than the two main parties.

FPTP makes it possible for one party to receive more votes than another and yet gain fewer seats. This may mean that the losing party may have more say than they should in the policies of the Governing party, as the Commons control legislation, meaning the Government is inefficient in passing it's own laws. In 1951 the Conservatives gained 0. 8% less of the vote than Labour, but 26 more seats and in 1974 Labour won 7% less of the vote than the Conservatives and 4 more seats.

Labour is especially favoured by FPTP as, when the Conservatives won a record 14 million votes, they only gained a 21 seat majority but Labour, gaining fewer votes, won a 167 seat majority. This is because Labour's support is distributed more efficiently in relation to the ability to gain seats, as it is densely concentrated in many areas. Labour have always been popular in and around major cities, so even when they do not win the election, they still have a lot of say in the House of Commons.

This causes division as well because labour are more popular in the North and the big cities, whereas the Conservatives have more support in the southern and rural parts of the country, which are not as densely populated and so less advantageous to have support in. It has been calculated that for the Conservatives to draw equal in the number of votes to Labour, it would take a 4. 7% increase, but Labour would still have 140 more seats. For the Conservatives to win Parliamentary majority, they would have to have an increase of 11.

5% in votes. There is a 'winner's bonus' which is a small increase in the votes of the winning party, translated into a certain percentage of seats which they are awarded when they become the new Government. This is demonstrated in 1983 when the Conservatives gained a one hundred seat majority on only 42% of the vote and in 1997 when Labour won a majority of 179 seats on only 43. 3% of the vote. FPTP is disproportional as the percentage of votes rarely matches up to the percentage of seats.

This 'winner's bonus' ensures a Parliamentary majority for the winning party, but it also means that the representation of the other parties is even more disproportional, as the winning party did not win these extra seats. Critics of FPTP also suggest that it does not give the voter a wide enough choice as each party only has one candidate in each constituency. Some suggest voters should be able to choose from a range of candidates of each party, or even, as in multimember constituencies, elect two or three MPs for that seat.

It might make people feel more involved if they helped to decide which MPs sat in Parliament from a particular party, as in the Party List system. There are two different types of Party List system, both involving larger, multimember constituencies. In a closed list system, the party makes a list of it's MPs in order of preference and the voter votes for the party instead of the MP. The seats are allocated in accordance to the percentage of votes that party receives and the seats are filled from the top of the list down.

For example if 20% of the vote was achieved by one party in a one hundred MP Parliament, then 20% or the top 20, in this case, MPs would be elected. In a closed system, however, it is easy for the party to choose favourites rather than those best suited to the job and the voters have too little choice. In an open list system voters also get to make a list of the MPs in order of preference, instead of the party making that decision, which is fairer than closed list. This system is advantageous as each vote has equal value and it is strictly proportional.

Because each member of the electorate only votes once, for one MP, they can only give support to a party by voting for that party's selected MP. The voter might like the policies of a certain party but not the way the MP represents that constituency, or vice versa, and in this system they can't show preference to one without the other. An alternative electoral system which allows the voters to vote separately would be a hybrid system such as the Additional Members System. In this system, the electorate vote for a party and an MP in a constituency and the seats are allocated in one of two ways.

A proportion is allocated in an FPTP way to MPs and the other votes are awarded to the parties depending on how many votes they gain. In Germany for example, they use a 50:50 system of AMS. The d'Hondt formula is used to allocate the votes to parties proportionally. This system gives the voter a choice between different MPs and parties and the use of single member constituencies helps to maintain the link between MP and electorate. Seats are gained proportionally and votes are less likely to be wasted which is another good point of this system.

Parties, however, devise their own lists for the seats to be allocated to in the second part of this system which means it is open to favouritism and smaller parties can go unrepresented as they must reach a small quota to reach power. It also divides power too greatly as half the legislature have responsibilities to their constituencies and the other half don't. There are, however, certain advantages to the FPTP system. It is a very simple electoral system which is easy to understand which means voters won't be put off because they found it too confusing.

It has been used in our country for many years and is very familiar to the electorate, giving a strong impression that there is nothing wrong with it, to those who aren't interested enough to look any deeper at the situation. It projects the image of such a solid electoral system due to the clear outcome that is produced quickly from a simple one vote system. It usually does work out that the party who have majority in the Commons, become the Government, meaning that the Government has the power to put it's policies into action and exercises strong rule over Britain.

This helps to avoid the country being ruled by weaker coalition Governments, who are not as efficient in making decisions as a one party Government would be. Often with the aid of the 'winner's bonus' FPTP manages to translate a non majority vote for a party into a majority in the Commons meaning the winning party can keep promises it made in it's manifesto and makes a more stable and accountable Government, who are also able to deal with unforeseen problems more easily.

The winning party is held responsible for putting their proposals into practise and is directly accountable to the electorate for any decisions that are made. The single member constituency system is praised by some as well because it is said to bring the MPs and constituencies together as only one MP is responsible for the welfare of the citizens of that constituency and encourages MPs to act on behalf of the electorate rather than for their own party. This, in turn, gets the public more involved with the Government of the day and could be used to restore people's faith in British politics.

In conclusion to this I would definitely say that Britain was in great need of electoral reform and that FPTP is an out dated and undemocratic system. I think a more appropriate system would be a system such as open party list as it is proportional and gives the voter a wide choice, getting them more involved in politics. It is unlikely that electoral reform will occur because it would require a major constitutional change and it might put people off from voting if a too confusing system is adopted.

However, there is some suggestion that the devolved states, such as Ireland are being considered as an experiment to see whether these systems would work in Britain. Ireland for example, already uses STV in both the Republic and the North so Britain could be looking at the effects of it's use on Ireland. However, it is unlikely to occur for a while yet as the country is stable as it is and people normally adopt an attitude of 'if it's not broke don't fix it'.