On First Past the Post

The purpose of democracy is not to conduct a tribal headcount, but to allow the people to chuck the rotters out from time to time. Does anyone think 1979 or 1997 didn’t accurately reflect the country’s desire for a change?

No electoral system is perfect. List PR gives parties an accurate number of seats to their vote share, but then forces them to govern according to the necessity of coalition-building, not their principles or manifestos. It also insulates those grandees who make it to the top of the list, ensuring no Portillo/Balls moments when a top flight MP feels the wrath of the electorate. It is important to decapitate a senior MP from time to time “pour encouager les autres”. Under proportional representation, patronage of party elites to put people in order on the list, distincentivises individual MPs from exercising their conscience in the legislature. We’d have fewer rebellions, and a stronger executive. List PR is what a political obsessive who identifies wholly and completely with his party thinks a “fair” system, but it has negative effects on the behaviour of MPs and concentrates power in a few hands who exist completely away from democratic oversight. I feel about list proportional representation the same way I think about the UK joining the Euro. I’d stop it, any way I can, for the  system is wholly toxic. I don’t want a PR Lords.

I want PR to go away, and never be spoken of again. Likewise “top-up” regional lists and so forth are fart-arsing about to please political wonks, to little benefit and create two classes of MPs.

On the other hand, First past the post gives a local MP a chance to build a personal following. His or Her standing may be enhanced by selective rebellions against the party whip on certain issues. MPs with a conscience and principles are respected by the electorate. An MP who is caught doing something the electorate don’t like, like Neil Hamilton in Tatton, will be out on their ear, safe seat or no. On the other hand, a diligent and thoughtful MP who works hard, like Nick Clegg can buck the trend of a national wipe-out for their party.

Under first past the post we vote for PEOPLE not PARTIES. It’s noticeable that the thoughtful, consistent, intellectual, honest and hard-working Douglas Carswell got re-elected relatively comfortably, but the opportunistic Judas, Mark Reckless was out on his ear. The voters of Rochester and Strood spoke. Likewise the voters of South Thanet decided that they’d rather not send Nigel Farage to represent them in parliament. This isn’t about UKIP, as Douglas Carswell showed, but about Nigel. I have voted Labour in the past. Yes, me, voting Labour, when I lived in Vauxhall, I was pleased to vote for Kate Hoey in 2001, as she’s anti-Euro and pro-Fox hunting (though definitely unsound on Cycling).  This is a strength of First Past the Post.

I’ll say it again: Voting isn’t a tribal headcount, because most people don’t think like we political obsessives. They think about the government they want, what’s happening in their constituency. You’re a socialist, but Labour can’t win here? Might as well vote Green to send a message, or Liberal Democrat to keep the Tories out. You’re a thick, bigoted Moron? You vote UKIP whether or not they can win, and you’re rightfully ignored. You don’t think the Labour leader is up to the Job? You vote for the candidate most likely to beat the Labour guy, whoever you notionally support. In an electorate of forty million or so these choices usually deliver a result that delivers an executive with a clear mandate. To imagine everyone would vote the same way under different systems is absurd.

The result is a system that sets the bar very high to secure representation. UKIP, mostly failed to meet the required standard, and suffered at the hands of tactical voting. Where it looked like they’d win, the people coalesced around the candidate most likely to beat them. That is a valid democratic choice – the electorate expressing its will clearly that while there are 4m people who like the Toxic yahoos. There are probably 8m people who’d move heaven and earth to keep UKIP away from power. Lots of people can like you. But you also have to have lots of people to not HATE you too. And where the candidate wasn’t obviously a bigoted git who looked like a shaved chimpanzee in a suit who’s just ranting Farage’s morning brain-fart, Clacton, UKIP won comfortably. There’s a lesson there.

Would the country really be better off with 83 grunting ignoramuses from UKIP in coalition, demanding David Cameron send the navy to Machine-gun migrants in the Mediterranean (which they’d in any case already demanded be sent to… um… Nepal) and the RAF to bomb the Strasbourg parliament? What purpose would a dozen hippies from the Green party, demanding the immediate closure of Nuclear power stations, and the shrinking of the UK economy serve apart from to make the business of Government more difficult.

There is a case for some electoral reform, but it’s not strong. Multi-member constituencies (I favour the counties sending 1 to 10 MPs to parliament depending upon population). AV or STV have their adherents, but these systems may serve to exacerbate the swings in a big move, and deliver even more overwhelming majorities to a single party or give overwhelming over-representation to everyone’s second choice. I’m not clear this is any better than the system we have now.

The First Past the Post system isn’t broken, and certainly no worse than any other. Landslides like 1983 and 1997 are rare. Yet the government changes when the mood of the country changes. The people aren’t clamouring for a change to the system, the losing parties are. But the rules are the same for everyone. The losers should just work harder in their target seats and shut up.

2 replies
  1. Meerkat
    Meerkat says:

    Completely true "I want PR to go away, and never be spoken of again" However don't confuse PR with single member constituency where the voting process is Preferential Instant Run Off this is vastly superior to First Past the Post.
    Preferential Instant Run Off is essentially ”First Past the Post” but the “Post” is set at 50% + 1 Vote if any candidate reaches that they have won the seat and no preferences are distributed at all. So why is it better? Because as well as allowing you to pick who you want to win, it allows to pick who don’t want to win. All Lower House seats in Australia are decided this way and why it is better is best shown by example. Inner City Sydney and Melbourne electorates are full rich snobbish Greens and Labor (Correct spelling in Aus) voters and wealthy academics who vote for Socialist Alliance and all combined they would total %65 of the electorate but in “First Past the Post” they would lose to the Liberals (They sort of map to the British Tory Party) as the Liberals usually land about 35%. Now I can’t stand Greens or Labor but a Liberal Candidate from these seats would be joke.

    If you ran “Preferential Instant Run Off” the UKIP voter can say, well I know the Tories won’t deliver a lot of what I want but I’m fucked if I want to see a Labour politician from this electorate, they can choose this. Preference the Tories second and when the UKIP Candidate is clearly not going to get %50 + 1 Vote his/her preferences are sent to (assuming they will be directed) to the Tory Candidate pushing them closer to the %50 + 1 Vote aka the “Post”. Equally they could say it should go to Labour.

    It also improves Public Policy as if you won your seat based on “preferences” you might want to investigate the issues that those voters decided to put as a second choice.

    OTT but so true “No electoral system is perfect” Although Australia’s Preferential Instant Run Off is I believe better the FPTP our Senate is madness through PR and unlike the UK our Upper House has real power

  2. Anonymous
    Anonymous says:

    "You vote **** whether or not they can win, and you're rightfully ignored. "

    And on the flipside, this is why lot's of people don't vote.

    Don't know what the correct system is, but first past the post isn't fit for purpose any-more, unless of course you only care about the opinion of those who vote red/blue


Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *