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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.

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.

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

About the author

Clare Coatman is Campaigns and Ideas Organiser for Compass. She is an experienced campaigner, having worked on issues including democracy, the environment and intergenerational justice.


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