First Past The Post: a brief look at the UK electoral system

The views in this article do not represent the GovFaces official position. 


On 7th May Britons will vote to decide who they want as their local MP. This will eventually decide which party (or parties) will go on to form a government, whether it be minority or majority.

The system used currently for the general election is first-past-the-post (FPTP) – essentially a winner takes all scenario. The candidate with the most votes is the winner, while the other votes are irrelevant. Winning by one vote is the same as winning by 10,000. It is a simple system that allows a person to express a preference for one candidate, it doesn’t take long to count, and is cheap. The system helps protect against parties seen as extremist from gaining any power because under the system they are unlikely to gain a concentrated vote in a single area. Furthermore it has been used for a long time now and is the established way of voting.

It isn’t without its critics though, in the alternative vote referendum in 2011 32.1% of people voted to change it but lost the vote to the 67.9% voting against.

First-past-the-post does have numerous issues firstly as aforementioned someone can win with just one vote. In 2005 only three MPs got a majority larger than 40%. The system wastes votes and doesn’t allow a person to say which parties they particularly like or dislike, just which one party they prefer.

The system may lead to people voting for their second favorite party due to the smaller vote numbers that they may have to make up. The numbers of safe seats may lead to voters becoming disillusioned due to the near impossibility that a party may be able to win in an area that is another party’s safe seat.

What some see as the biggest positive about FPTP is for some its greatest criticism – its simplicity. Voters may feel constrained in their ability to express their political views. Not being able to say which party they least like is arguably just as important as being able to say which party you like the most. However, the system does mean that it is not a large amount of money being spent when holding an election, whereas a different system would inevitably require a longer time to count the votes and thus require more money spent. There is also a chance that people may find a new system confusing when compared to FPTP.

The concerns with FPTP could be leading to the bad voter turnouts. Only 65.5% of people turned out to the last general election. This means over a third of the views of people in the UK are not being counted.

The problem here is that the system benefits the most are Labour and Conservatives, the two parties who have the power to influence any decision to do so. Nick Clegg’s attempt was telling, in a different system where the votes lost in FPTP were counted his party would almost certainly do a lot better. So should it be decided that the system should be changed it is unlikely it would ever garner enough support from those in power to change.

There are a lot of pros and cons regarding the system, yet with the defeat in the referendum in 2011 the debate is unlikely to be reopened for some time.


Aidan Williams is a contributing writer and a University of Portsmouth student.

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