British electionsare decided using what is known as the First Past the Post (abbreviated FPTP, 1stP, 1PTP or FPP) voting system. Here's a quick guide.
How does voting work?
The candidate with the most votes in each constituency wins and becomes the MP for that seat. All other votes are disregarded.
Where is it used?
It is used in the UK to elect members of the House of Commons, both chambers of the US Congress and the lower houses in India and Canada as well as other place that used to be British colonies. It is the second most popular voting system in the world.
Advantages of First Past The Post
- It is easy to understand
- It can be quick to count the votes and declare a winner
- Voters can express a clear view on which party they want in government
- In a two-party system, it has normally produced a single-party government with a clear mandate to govern
Disadvantages of the system
- MPs can be elected with relatively small percentage of the vote
- It encourages tactical voting where people vote against the candidate they most dislike
- Many votes are wasted: either those cast for a losing candidate or those for a winning candidate past the level needed to win the seat
- Penalises small parties whose votes are spread widely across the country, not concentrated in particular seats
When did we first start to question First Past The Post?
It could yield the "wrong" result, writes Vernon Bogdanor, author of 'The New British Constitution'. In 1951, the Tories gained nearly one point less of the vote than Labour, but had an overall majority of 17 (part of the reason was that in four constituencies, the Ulster Unionists, then allied to the Conservatives, were unopposed, so deflating the total Tory vote).
Conversely, in February 1974, the Conservatives beat Labour by more than 200,000 votes, but had four fewer seats; Harold Wilson was able to form a minority government after Edward Heath's attempt to form a coalition with the Liberals had failed. It was after this election that discontent with the system started to grow.
What are the alternatives?
The Alternative Vote (AV) is a system where the voter has the chance to rank the candidates in order of preference.
The voter puts a '1' by their first choice a '2' by their second choice, and so on, until they no longer wish to express any further preferences or run out of candidates.
Candidates are elected outright if they gain more than half of the first preference votes. If not, the candidate who lost (the one with least first preferences) is eliminated and their votes are redistributed according to the second (or next available) preference marked on the ballot paper.
This process continues until one candidate has half of the votes and is elected. A referendum in 2011 saw UK voters reject the idea of replacing First Past The Post with the Alternative Voting system.
So is FPTP here to stay?
Maybe not. The rise of smaller political parties at the General Election could raise new questions about it.
Smaller parties like Ukip could well win a large share of the overall vote, but get only a handful of seats. That could start a debate in the next parliament about electoral reform.
The Telegraph's James Kirkup has said that the current system is a "poison that could kill faith in representative democracy".
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