Written by Luna Webster
You hear a lot of talk about the advantages and disadvantages of voting systems in the run up to the general election. As First Past The Post is the voting system we use here in the UK it’s important to not only talk about the pros and cons, but how it actually works too. We’re going to go back to basics and give you a simple, concise explanation of what the First Past The Post system actually means.
First Past The Post is probably the most simple voting system. You register to vote, you go along to a polling station, you go to a booth. You get a slip of paper with every party candidate in your local area or “constituency” on it, and put a cross beside the name of the person you want to represent you. It’s that easy! The votes are then counted, and the candidate with the most votes becomes the MP for your constituency and in turn takes a seat in Westminster. The political party with the most seats in Westminster becomes the government.
However despite the simplicity of First Past The Post, there are disadvantages. It doesn’t exactly provide proportional representation, which means that although across the whole country a party could get 40% of the votes, they would not end up with 40% of the seats in parliament. An example of this was in 2005, when Labour won the general election with around 35% of the total vote, but had 55% of the seats in Westminster. Is it fair that a party can become the government when more people voted for parties other than them? First Past The Post isn’t a good system for small parties either. For example in 2010, the Liberal Democrats received 23% of the vote at the general election but only ended up with 9% of the seats in Westminster.
It’s a system designed to get a majority government which means it’s not supposed to give us coalition governments. This is why smaller parties have very little chance to get into government but the bigger ones do. But in 2010 we DID get a coalition government. And it’s generally expected that the same will happen again this year. Coalitions come from hung parliaments – this is when no party receives a majority of the seats in the House of Commons. They have to win over 50% of them to become the government. If they don’t, they get other parties on board to make up the numbers.
It’s a pretty easy system to understand and also the simplicity of actually voting could encourage people to vote in the future which is a positive. It’s up to you to decide if you think First Past The Post is for better or for worse, but hopefully now you have a fuller understanding of how it works and you’re able to get involved in a whole new kind of political discussion. Go you!