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Evaluating FPTP

A. The Case For FPTP      
1.        It is simple to understand both for the voters and for the counting of votes.

2.        Single-party majorities - The central point which defenders of both the political right and left believe is of crucial importance is that FPTP encourages single party majorities. The electoral system tends to  magnify the winning party’s  victory when popular votes are translated into seats in the Commons.  So the electoral system encourages supports and reinforces the concept of a general election as an electoral choice between two alternative teams of political leaders, Single party government produces -

3.        Effective government based on principle - in this context, effective means the ability to transfer proposals into legislation or other practical action.  The single party majority system generally produces governments with the ability to introduce legislation despite the checks of the opposition.  The system gives wide ranging powers even though a government rarely has 50% + of popular votes.  Decisions are taken within a more-or-less cohesive framework of principle and priorities because of the ideological nature of the political parties.  Single-party, effective government also produces -

4.        Accountable government - it can be clearly seen who is responsible for government decisions, and the Cabinet can be held accountable through parliamentary procedures and, ultimately,  at the next General Election.  There is normally a clear connection  between general elections and government formation in the sense that there is no post election bargaining between parties for office, This means that there is –

5.        A simple transfer of power - the 'Ins and Outs’  of government are regulated by the decision of the electorate even when the popular vote is close and thus there are only rarely constitutional problems in forming governments.  Elections thereby produce –

6.        Mandates for government policies - a mandate is a grant of authority from the electorate and because they publish their projected policies (manifestos) in extensive detail elections can be seen as contests between policies not just personnel. The winning party claims popular consent for its programme.  The twin doctrines of manifesto and mandate are central to the quality of British government. The connection between policies and election means that parties must be –

7.        Responsive to movements in public opinion - in order to win' an election parties must appeal to all sections of the community.

8.        Local Representation - defenders of FPTP stress the strength of the link between an MP and his or her constituency. MPs  are a channel through which ordinary people can protect their interests and many MPs make a career of being a good constituency MP.

9.        The UK's democracy is one of the strongest in the world, it works and since no system is perfect, why should we go through the massive overhaul of changing?

B. The Case Against

1.      FPTP is unfair, unrepresentative and therefore undemocratic – it simply does not reflect the wishes of the people. Details of the lack of proportionality have been given in the previous section.

2.      Robert Blackburn in his study, ‘The Electoral System’ argues, ‘Even the former Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, at the height of her political triumph after the 1983 election, with a huge Commons majority of 397 seats to Labour's 209, had, in fact, been rejected by 57.6 per cent of all voters in the country.  With a Commons' majority of over 150 Conservative MPs, her government could legislate freely in Parliament, even on some matters deeply opposed by public opinion such as the poll tax, by reference to the dubious moral authority of just 42.4 per cent of voters in the country. . This means that governments can effectively implement policies, however radical and unpopular, against the wishes of the majority of the electorate. 

3.      Professor Sir William Wade at Oxford University, has said, ‘if it is accepted that a democratic Parliament ought to represent so far as possible the preferences of the voters, this system is probably the worst that could be devised’.

4.      Because constituency parties choose only one candidate, parties are not currently choosing female candidates or those from minority ethnic groups to fight 'winnable' seats. This reinforces the white, middle class, male profile of Parliament.

5.      Two key terms  for critics of FPTP  are  confrontation politics and elective dictatorship. Reformers argue that the British party system leads to confrontation, limits rational debate and compromise.

6.      Critics suggest that the political system leads to poor policy-making and inefficient government.  The workings of the House of Commons is dominated by the clash of parties and each issue becomes a ‘trial of strength’.  This is turn leads to weakness at the centre of representative democracy because the ability to check and scrutinise the executive are limited. Because there are very few checks on a Government with a majority in the House of Commons (the House of Lords has virtually no power and the Monarch is a figurehead) this situation has led to descriptions of the political system as an 'elective dictatorship'.

7.      Policies are initiated, justified and opposed on 'party' lines and votes in the House of Commons are almost always occasions at which party 'loyalty' expresses itself.  The whole tone of British politics is said to be dominated by the permanent hostility of the two major groups and the playing down of any areas of agreement.

8.      Vernon Bogdanor ‘Giving power to the strongest minority is more worrying in Britain than it would be in most other democracies since we are one of only three democracies in the without a codified constitution.  We are also now almost the only democracy in the world which offers no constitutional check or balance to the power of government It is the absence of constitutional checks which makes British government omnicom­petent.  But it is the FPTP system which allows an omnicom­petent government to assume power even though a majority of the voters may be opposed to it. 

9.      FPTP does not necessarily deliver stable government. Although Governments often have large majorities this is not always true. From 1964-1966 and 1974-1979 and 1992-1997 governments had very small or no overall majority.  On specific issues eg. Europe, divisions within Labour and Conservative parties have meant the Government has no majority at all. The last Conservative Government had to rely on UUP MPs and others to get through its European legislation.

ELECTIONS REVISION PART 1Answering (a) & (B) questions
1.   Briefly explain two functions of a general election. (5)
 2.   Distinguish, with examples, between power and authority. (5)
 3.   Define proportional representation. (5) 4.    Outline the workings of the Additional Member System (AMS). (5) 5.   What is the doctrine of the mandate? (5) 6.   What are the features of FPTP (5)
 7.   Distinguish between an election and a referendum. (5)
 8.   Describe the workings and main implications of the ‘first past the post’ electoral (10)
 9.   How is legitimacy maintained in the UK political system? (10)
 10.         How does the electoral system for the House of Commons differ from the other electoral systems used in the UK? (10) 11.         Explain the workings of three electoral systems used in the UK. (10) 12.         How has the use of AMS affected party representation in the UK? (10) 13.         Why have more referendums been used in the UK since 1997? (10)


1.  To what extent have proportional electoral systems affected party representation in the UK?
 2.  Discuss the impact of the use of proportional electoral systems on UK politics.   
3.  Are referendums more effective than elections in promoting democracy?
 4.  In what ways, and to what extent, have proportional electoral systems had an impact in the UK? 5.  Should proportional representation be introduced for elections to the House of Commons? 6.  Assess the advantages of the ‘first past the post’ electoral system.  ALL 25 marks

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