The Purpose of Elections They allow the ‘will of the people’ to be expressed They provide for voter choice in selection of government and their policies In a democracy, they are the crucial mechanism for providing legitimacy to any government How effectively they reflect the people’s will is therefore of crucial importance
Why Does the Type of Electoral System Matter? Different systems have different consequences The issue is what balance we want to strike between strong, clear government, and the need to represent as wide a range of people’s views as possible? The greater the proportionality of a system, the greater the need for compromise between different parties.
Election Systems First Past the Post Additional Member Supplementary Vote Closed List System Single Transferable Vote
First Past the Post The system currently used in Britain for Westminster elections. Since Westminster elections produce the national government, the system used for them is of the greatest significance in the UK
First Past the Post – The Case For Simple for voters – one vote for one candidate Usually produces clear result producing strong, stable government. Clear constituency link between MP and voters 1974 and 2010 the only occasions when a ‘hung parliament’ has resulted Only in 2010 has this caused formation of a coalition government
First Past the Post – The Case Against It is disproportionate to a significant level (in 2010 the Lib Dems, on 23% of the vote, won 9% of the seats; Labour on 29% of the vote won 40% of the seats) It allows for large numbers of ‘wasted’ votes It produces an unbalanced two-party system – biased against third or minority parties Therefore it is inherently ‘undemocratic’ in that it does not properly represent the people’s will.
What Happened in 2010? For the first time since 1974, the FPTP system produced a hung parliament (no party with an overall majority) This result itself illustrated the disproportionate nature of FPTP, as the Conservatives won 36% of the vote, to Labour’s 29%
What Happened in 2010? In Feb 1974, the largest party (Labour) formed a minority government and called a further election in October, which gave it a small majority. 2010, however, resulted in a coalition government – David Cameron did not try to form a minority government. Why?
What Happened in 2010? Cameron may have realised that the current electoral system is increasingly unlikely to benefit the Conservative Party. He may have realised that the two- party system looks increasingly unviable He may have wanted to use a Lib Dem coalition as the basis for a new, centrist political grouping.
What Happened in 2010? As part of the move to have a coalition with the Lib Dems, Cameron embraced a referendum on electoral reform (for the use of AV in Westminster elections in future) This referendum was held in May 2011 and resulted in a clear rejection of the AV system. FPTP is here to stay.
The Cracking of the Two-Party System under FPTP In 1951 only 3% of votes were cast for non-Conservative or Labour candidates In 2010 35% of votes were cast to ‘other’ parties or candidates (highest proportion since 1918) Third parties are also gaining more seats
The Cracking of the Two-Party System under FPTP In 1983 the Liberal/SDP Alliance won 25% of the vote, but only 23 seats. In 2010 the Lib Dems won 23% of the vote, but 57 seats. The party has managed to agglomerate support in fewer constituencies, and has benefited from the rise of tactical voting. More third-party MPs = higher likelihood of hung parliaments, even under FPTP
How the Current System Squeezes the Conservatives David Cameron won a 7% lead over Labour in 2010 but failed to secure a majority of seats On the same percentage lead, Margaret Thatcher gained a 44 seat majority in 1979 Why?
How the Current System Squeezes the Conservatives Far fewer seats are close contests between Labour and Tories any more Seats won by Tories have larger electorates (an average 4,000 more voters than Labour seats) Turnout is higher in Conservative seats Labour wins more seats with small majorities, thus limiting the number of ‘excess’ or ‘wasted’ votes that is the problem for the Conservatives.
The England Factor The Conservative problem is exacerbated by its failure to make any headway in Scotland, and only limited progress in Wales. In England’s 533 seats (with one still to hold an election) Cameron won a majority of 62.
The Future of UK Electoral Systems With AV having been rejected in a referendum, it is unlikely that another system will be considered for Westminster elections in the near future. PR or semi-PR systems are of course used in other UK elections - for the devolved assemblies and the European Parliament, producing a different range of results to the Westminster system. If reform of the House of Lords were to be pursued (an unlikely prospect as of 2012) then any elected second chamber would probably use a form of PR
Impact of Different Systems in UK The Scottish and Welsh institutions have shown up a number of differences from Westminster: Larger number of parties Better representation for Conservatives Coalition governments European Elections show similar differences, notably in larger number of parties being elected.
Devolved Elections – Scotland 2011 SNP won majority – first time in the history of the new Scottish Parliament that a single party has done this List system continued to benefit Conservatives, whose losses were kept to just 5 seats as a result Lib Dems lost significantly (25 seats)– ‘routed’; blame placed on their Westminster coalition
Scotland 2011 Labour lost 16 seats to SNP Labour, Conservative and Lib Dem Scottish leaders all resigned in wake of election The Greens won 2 list seats, as did one Independent.
Welsh Elections 2011 Labour won exactly half the seats and chose to govern alone Conservative losses were limited, while Lib Dems and Plaid Cymru did poorly Once again, the part-list system appeared to benefit the Conservatives
European Elections in UK 2009 Conservatives did well – top with 26 seats, but at time of Labour govt unpopularity under Gordon Brown UKIP equalled Labour’s score of 13 seats Greens and BNP also gained seats (2 apiece) Low turnout of around 30%
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