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First Past the Post: a damning report on a system that 'fails the fairness test'

A damning report on the first past the post voting system has been released by ippr. Clare Coatman, of the Yes to Fairer Votes campaign, introduces the report.
Clare Coatman
4 January 2011

I was excited to read ippr’s finished report into First Past the Post (FPTP) ‘The Worst of Both Worlds’ released today (download the pdf). It is a thoroughly damning analysis of a voting system that was “designed for a world that no longer exists”.

The report demonstrates that FPTP fails on its own terms. Trends over the last 40 years mean that “FPTP can no longer claim to guarantee strong single-party government”. If, as foreseen, coalitions under FPTP become more prevalent, politicians, not voters, will increasingly determine the outcome of elections, as parties are unwilling under the current system to declare ahead of the count who they would go into coalition with and under what terms.

The 'Worst of Both Worlds' also shows that FPTP “fails the fairness test” when “the number of seats a party wins depends less on the number of votes it gets than on the geographic distribution of its support”. Under our current system, millions of voters are unlikely to ever see their seat change hands, meaning those MPs are unaccountable to their constituents. The report concludes that “unless FPTP is reformed, we will be left in the ‘worst of both worlds’: a voting system that neither delivers fair representation nor single-party majority government”.

Figure 6 from the report shows a "reasonably strong (negative) correlation" between the winner's majority in 2005 and turnout in 2010: the safer the seat, the less inclined the constituents are to vote.

ippr%20FPTP_0.jpg

On May 5th we will have a once-in-a-generation chance to make our voices heard on how the UK elects its Members of Parliament. The referendum will ask us whether we want to replace FPTP with the Alternative Vote (AV) system. The Yes Campaign believe that AV is fairer than our current system as MPs will have to work harder to get and keep votes, constituents will have a greater say and far fewer MPs will have jobs for life. Most importantly of all, MPs will have to receive over 50 per cent support from voters in their constituency to be elected. To find out more about electoral reform and the Alternative Vote, visit www.yestofairervotes.org

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Join us for a free live discussion on Thursday 22 October, 5pm UK time/12pm EDT.

Hear from:

Paolo Gerbaudo Sociologist and political theorist, director of the Centre for Digital Culture at King’s College London and author of ‘The Mask and the Flag: Populism and Global Protest’ and ‘The Digital Party: Political Organisation and Online Democracy’, and of the forthcoming ‘The Great Recoil: Politics After Populism and Pandemic’.

Chantal Mouffe Emeritus Professor of Political Theory at the University of Westminster in London. Her most recent books are ‘Agonistics. Thinking the World Politically’, ‘Podemos. In the Name of the People’ and ‘For a Left Populism’.

Spyros A. Sofos Researcher and research coordinator at the Center for Middle Eastern Studies, Lund University and author of ‘Nation and Identity in Contemporary Europe’, ‘Tormented by History’ and ‘Islam in Europe: Public Spaces and Civic Networks'.

Chair: Walid el Houri Researcher, journalist and filmmaker based between Berlin and Beirut. He is partnerships editor at openDemocracy and lead editor of its North Africa, West Asia project.

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