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Consider the arguments for and against retaining first-past-the-post for general elections

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Consider the arguments for and against retaining first-past-the-post for general elections The first-past-the-post system has for the last century served British politics well, if not adequately enough to be maintained unquestioned. This idea was backed by a certain amount of British arrogance. There was the assumption that the British system of government was for various reasons better than that of other Western European states. Firstly, Britain was a great political and economic power for the first half of the 20th century. Secondly, the British system has been extremely efficient in avoiding political extremism, especially at a time when both fascism and Communism were faring particularly well in much of Europe. Thirdly, the maintenance of stability and strong government where European proportionality failed. However, the emergence of a significant third party in the 70s has refuelled the arguments for change. The shortcomings of first-past-the-post were highlighted in the 1983 general election when the Liberal/SDP Alliance received 25% of the national vote, and for it got only 3.5% of the seats in parliament. This clearly seems to be unfair. Before the arguments for and against the retention of first-past-the-post for general elections can be established, the main features of the system must first be outlined. ...read more.


The adversarial two-party system has been criticised for encouraging abrupt change in policy direction. These frequent reversals of policy in important areas may be damaging to the country. A neglection of the virtues of accountability, and a multi-party government would therefore create greater consistency. It could be argued that this consistency in policy would lead to greater stability than currently present under the first-past-the-post system. The prospects for electoral reform don't look too great. The issue is fairly unimportant to the majority of the electorate. Furthermore the nature of first-past-the-post benefits the government. A party in government backing electoral reform would have to accept the fact they would probably lose seats as a result. Any serious debate about electoral reform has the possibility of being biased depending on individuals party allegiances i.e. a Liberal Democrat supporter may oppose the retention of first-past-the-post simply because it penalises their party, rather than because of an objective opinion that the current system is unfair and undesirable. Support for electoral reform grew in the Labour Party during its 18 years of opposition. However after the landslide of the 1997 election, many doubters kept quiet. ...read more.


As did elections for the Greater London Authority. Elections for the London Mayor were by the supplementary method. The single transferable vote is used for the newly created Northern Island Assembly and for Northern Island's elections to the European Parliament. As of 1999, the party list system is used for British elections to the European Parliament. Each of these systems is different and invariably flawed in some way. But that isn't the point. The point is why hasn't first-past-the-post been used for any of these newly created elections?. Clearly our current system isn't good enough for newly created elections. One can only assume that the only reason we still use it for general elections is the traditionally conservative British nature. Or perhaps the government realise first-past-the-post is heavily flawed but enjoy its unfairness too much to give up seats where they really count. The Jenkins report is itself the strongest argument against the retention of first-past-the-post. There is no such argument of a similar depth and intelligence which supports retaining first-past-the-post. The Conservatives commented that' accountability, strong government and a "fair" distribution of seats cannot be easily reconciled.' This may be true, but AV-Plus would get far closer to this ideal than first-past-the-post does. ...read more.

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