First Past the Post’s Third Strike

Electoral Reform Society,

Posted on the 12th June 2017

We’ve heard it time and time again in different forms: First Past the Post is ‘strong and stable’. It seems that myth has been well and truly bust.

This is the third election in a row where Westminster’s voting system has failed to do what it long promised – produce a clear government.

And our electoral system’s insidious effect doesn’t just distort out votes out of all proportion, it changes the way people vote in the first place. With the expectation of no party getting more than half the seats in 2015, voters felt free to vote for who they supported.

This election, a predicted Conservative landslide appeared to be behind a surge in tactical voting, which doubled through voters feeling they had to pick one big side.

But the high vote share for the two main parties masks the fact that one in five people felt forced to vote tactically and second guessed each other to game the system.

Voters in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland are all used to more proportional systems and seeing their voices reflected in the corridors of power. So forcing their complex party systems through the meat grinder of First Past the Post just means voters are being let down yet again by Westminster’s system.

And Westminster’s broken system doesn’t just shape how the public votes, it shapes how parties behave. Before 2010 and 2015, parties discussed the possibility of coalitions before the vote. Writing manifestos and deciding on red lines with the idea in mind that they would have to work together after the election.

While it’s good to see parties openly exploring power-sharing whether that’s achieved through confidence-and-supply or a more formal coalition, they are having to do it between parties that are over-represented by our voting system.

And though they will have a majority in the House of Commons, they won’t have one in the nation. Parties working together would do well to think about what voters have decided on – by votes, not just seats.

Working together is normal in countries where a fairer voting system often meets voters’ demands that parties share power, but the rush to form a coalition or deal that we saw last time round a government programme must be avoided. Five years of legislation cannot be planned out in a few days of meetings.

The 2017 result shows the distorted picture you get when 21st century voting habits collide with a 19th century voting system. First Past the Post is meant to give us decisive victories – clearly it no longer can.

We’ve witnessed the voting system fundamentally fail – even on its own terms.

This must be the last election when millions feel forced to ‘hold their nose’ – we need a system that ensures seats match votes and people can always vote for who they believe in.

June 8th was the third strike – First Past the Post is out.

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