The following is a look at AV and First Past The Post which was published by the ERS. The ERS are an politically neutral group who campaign for better voting methods. This seems as good a place as any to start our Staffordshire Blog
The case for AV
* All MPs would have the support of a majority of their voters. Following the 2010 election 2/3 of MPs lacked majority support, the highest figure in British political history.
* It retains the same constituencies, meaning no need to redraw boundaries, and no overt erosion of the constituency-MP link.
* It penalises extremist parties, who are unlikely to gain many second-preference votes.
* It eliminates the need for tactical voting. Electors can vote for their first-choice candidate without fear of wasting their vote.
* It encourages candidates to chase second- and third-preferences, which lessens the need for negative campaigning (one doesn’t want to alienate the supporters of another candidate whose second preferences one wants) and rewards broad-church policies.
The problems with FPTP
* Representatives can get elected on tiny amounts of public support. In 2005, for example, George Galloway polled the votes of only 18.4 per cent of his constituents, yet ended up in the House of Commons. Only three MPs elected in 2005 secured the votes of more than 40 per cent of their constituents.
* It encourages tactical voting, as voters vote not for the candidate they most prefer, but against the candidate they most dislike.
* FPTP in effect wastes huge numbers of votes, as votes cast in a constituency for losing candidates, or for the winning candidate above the level they need to win that seat, count for nothing. In 2005, 70 per cent of votes were wasted in this way – that’s over 19 million ballots.
* FPTP severely restricts voter choice. Parties are coalitions of many different viewpoints. If the preferred-party candidate in your constituency has views with which you don’t agree, you don’t have a means of saying so at the ballot box.
* Rather than allocating seats in line with actual support, FPTP rewards parties with ‘lumpy’ support, i.e. with just enough votes to win in each particular area. Thus, losing 4,000 votes in one area can be a good idea if it means you pick up 400 votes in another. With smaller parties, this works in favour of those with centralised support. For example, at the 2005 general election, the DUP won nine seats on 0.9 per cent of the vote, yet the Greens won no seats, despite polling almost 16,000 more votes than the DUP.
* With relatively small constituency sizes, the way boundaries are drawn can have important effects on the election result, which encourages attempts at gerrymandering.
* Small constituencies also lead to a proliferation of safe seats, where the same party is all but guaranteed re-election at each election. This not only in effect disenfranchises a region’s voters, but it leads to these areas being ignored when it comes to framing policy.
* If large areas of the country are electoral deserts for a particular party, not only is the area ignored by that party, but also ambitious politicians from the area have to move away from their homeland if they want to have influence within their party.
* FPTP rewards organised minorities, deals ineffectively with the most disliked parties, ignores (and thus fails to deal with) views that don’t look like challenging at the polls and can make certain areas feel neglected by the big political parties. Until 2009 Euro Elections it was the only electoral system in the UK to have elected representatives from extremist parties. A party can be despised by 49 per cent of an electorate and still win.
* Encouraging two-party politics can be an advantage, but in a multi-party culture, third parties with significant support can be greatly disadvantaged. In the 1983 general election, the Liberal SDP alliance won 25 of the vote, but gained only 3 per cent of the seats.
* Because FPTP restricts a constituency’s choice of candidates, representation of minorities and women suffers from ‘most broadly acceptable candidate syndrome’, where the ‘safest’ looking candidate is the most likely to be offered a chance to stand for election.
Other things to consider
FPTP forces parties to become coalitions in themselves, rather than forming coalitions with other parties later. This is seen as a positive because it lets the voters know about the coalition before the vote. However, this can be seen as a negative, as it obscures what voters are actually voting for, as candidates from the same party can stand for radically different things, thus a voter has no way of expressing which side of the party they support.
ERS Policy on FPTP
The Electoral Reform Society thinks that, on balance, the massive failings of FPTP severely outweigh the advantage of its incumbency.