In Brittan the Simple Plurality System (FPTP) is used for general elections. However, the need for an electoral reform has been argued and a referendum on changing the electoral system from First-Past-The-Post to the Alternative Vote will be held on any day before the end of October 2011. This essay will include the problems of First-Past-The-Post and will discuss whether the Alternative Vote would be fairer. First-Past-The-Post or the Single Plurality System is an electoral system in which a candidate only needs the plurality of votes to win i.e. more votes than any other candidate, and doesn’t need an overall majority. That is why this system is sometimes called the ‘winner-take-all-system’. However, it is possible to win with an overall majority and when a party regularly does so in a specific constituency; the seat of that constituency is called a ‘safe seat’. Whereas, when a party wins with a small margin in a particular constituency, the seat would be called a ‘marginal seat’ and that could be easily changed. The main argument against FPTP is that it is disproportional, i.e. the percentage share of the popular vote of parties does not reflect the percentage share of seats. This means that candidates can be elected on a small amount of public support. For instance, in 1997 Labour won 419 out of 659 seats, which is 63% of seats, although it only won 43% of the votes. In addition, it has been argued that this system promotes tactical voting, that is people voting against the party they dislike rather than for the party they support. As well as that, a common argument against FPTP is that it wastes a huge amount of votes, since votes of the losing candidates and the ‘surplus’ votes of the winning candidates are counted for nothing. Also, people who are against FPTP claim that it limits the choice of voters, as they can only vote on a package of policies and if they are dissatisfied with some of the policies that the party’s manifesto contains they cannot express their opinions at the ballot box. Furthermore, it has been argued that FPTP dismays turnout, because many voters are reluctant to vote as they think their vote will not make a difference. This can be illustrated by the fact that turn out in European countries where PR and mixed systems are used is higher than in the UK. For these reasons many people want an electoral reform. The Liberal Democrats Party is the party, who included a pledge of a reform of the voting system. However, the Liberal Democrats wanted to change the system to the Single Transferable Vote system which is a PR system, but as a part of the coalition consensus with the Conservatives, they had to settle for the Alternative Vote. The AV is a majoritarian system, in which “preferential voting” is used. The referendum was supposed to be held on the 5th of May 2011, but the government lost by 195 votes to 199 on the 6th of December. Therefore, the referendum will be held anytime before the end of October 2011. The main argument for the AV system is that it produces MPs, who have the majority support of the voters i.e. more than 50% of the vote. Moreover, it is argued that this system will lessen tactical voting, as voters can vote for the party they support no matter how small it is while knowing that their vote would still determine the winner. In addition, the division of constituencies under AV is the same as FPTP, so there would be no need for redrawing boundaries and each constituency will still have an MP who represents it. As well as that, supporter of AV believe that it excludes extremist parties which are unlikely to win second-preference votes. Whether or not the AV system is fairer than FPTP depends on individuals’ interpretation of fair. If fair is seen as more proportional, then some people argue that AV is a fairer system as they claim it is less disproportional than FPTP. Nonetheless, many people disagree and even believe that it could lead to a less proportional representation than FPTP and it is a “winner takes all” system as well. On the other hand, fair might be considered as a system in which the winner is more supported, in that sense, supporters of AV claim that it is fairer since the winner has more than 50% of the votes. Whereas, supporter of FPTP argue that FPTP produces a winner that is the voters’ first choice rather than their second or third preference. As already mentioned, AV is not the system that the Lib-Dems want; in fact Nick Clegg called it a “miserable little compromise”. Fiji, Australia and Papua New Guinea are the only three countries that use AV in their national general elections, and two of them are considering leaving it. Moreover, it’s argued that AV reduced the turnout in Australia, that’s why they had to make voting mandatory. President of the no AV campaign Beckett, M (2010) said “AV doesn’t help democracy, it stands in its way, and I will be urging people to vote no next May”. In conclusion, I think electoral reform is a decision that needs a lot of consideration. Therefore, it is not a good idea to change the voting system to one which wasn’t even included in the manifestos of either coalition parties, to choose between two majoritarian systems, to select a system which is more complicated and maybe more disproportional than the current one. In my point of view, even if the country needs an electoral reform, it should consider a different system rather than AV.
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