I mentioned on Twitter that your defense of FPTP mentions none of its criticisms and only spurious benefits.
First, the criticisms you do not mention:
- FPTP suppresses the democratic right to representation of one quarter of all UK voters (24.4% of voters voted for either the Green Party, the Liberal Democrats, or UKIP, who now share a negligible 1.5% of seats between them) — effectively excluding the voices of more than seven million voters not only from government, but from holding government to account.
- FPTP makes votes grossly unequal in value. One party needed just over 23,000 votes to win a single seat last year while another needed almost four million. This means that votes cast by some people had more than one hundred and sixty eight times greater value than votes cast by others.
- FPTP distorts the electorate’s express wishes. 63% of people who voted rejected the present government’s manifesto, yet it now has a majority of parliamentary seats and the power to impose whatever policies it wishes.
These are critical failures which need to be addressed by any serious defense of FPTP as a system. In order for this defense to be successful, you would have to persuade whoever you’re talking to that one quarter of the population should not have political representation on the basis that they don’t live closely enough together. That is what FPTP measures. If the 4 million-odd UKIP voters had happened to live in a small number of constituencies (as the SNP’s 1.5m voters do) they could easily have won over 100 seats. But because they’re evenly distributed throughout the country, there’s one single MP in parliament who stood on the manifesto they voted for.
These are just the headlines — there’s also safe seats, distortion of spending to target marginal constituencies, a horrific political culture centered around shouting, inequitable distribution of wealth, poor political representation of women and minorities, etc.
It would be interesting to hear a defense of FPTP that acknowledged and then dealt with these points. Such defenses are hard to find and people who claim to defend FPTP almost always change subject to divert the discussion rather than address them — probably because they are indefensible.
As for the benefits:
- You claim that FPTP allows parties to stand on a manifesto and, if elected, to have the opportunity as a majority government to implement that manifesto. This allows the public to judge the government against their promises and throw them out if they fail. (Please correct me if I’ve misunderstood this).
The most important point about this has already been mentioned in 3. above. In 2015 and with every recent majority government in the UK, the manifesto had already been rejected by a large majority of voters on the day of their inauguration.
Your argument may work when there are only two parties (although the evidence suggests FPTP creates the two party systems, rather than is adopted to best serve two party countries) — because whichever manifesto is voted in would by definition have the support of most of the people. If enough of the people switch allegiance in the next election, the alternative manifesto suddenly has majority support and the old government are thrown out.
It obviously hasn’t worked like this in living memory. Between 2001 and 2005 elections, Labour support fell from 40.7% to 35.2% of the vote — and they still ended up with 55% of seats! Applying the logic you advocate, we should read as a resounding endorsement of that government by “the public”. Is that not ridiculous? Likewise in 2015, the Tories increased their vote share by 0.8% to 36.9% — which apparently meant “the public” had decided to give them a go at implementing their manifesto.
Under these conditions, it doesn’t really matter whether a manifesto is implemented — commitments are frequently not delivered by governments who are then re-elected. The crucial factor is whether they can hang on to their largest minority of voters. The Conservatives — like the Lib Dems — broke plenty of pledges in Coalition. But they retained the confidence of a little over one in three voters and that was enough.
A couple of other points:
- “From the mid 60s to 1979, no government once elected for a full term was re-elected, minority governments being frequent.”
There was only one minority government in this period — from February 1974 to October 1974.
- “this impasse only ended when the public latched on to the strong platform, leadership and mandate of Margaret Thatcher.”
Margaret Thatcher never had a strong mandate. Her strongest was in her first term, with 43.9% of the vote — marginally greater than the mandate of the opposition in an election that took place nine years earlier (43.1%).
- “ Time and time again, the public have confirmed their preference for strong single party government, becoming only disillusioned when manifesto pledges, the “contract”, have been broken.”
Since WWII, an incredibly clear pattern has emerged (happy to quantify this) — fewer people voting for the two major parties and a greater share of the vote going to smaller parties. You take this as evidence that the public are confirming their preference for strong single party government. Before you do so, it is worth asking, what would evidence to the contrary look like?
- “But Majoritarianism, like democracy, is by far the best option we’ve got.”
There are many proportional systems which successfully deliver assemblies and governments that are not only stable, but genuinely representative of the people they seek to govern — and therefore are democratically legitimate. Some examples of far better systems are MMP (used in Germany and New Zealand), STV (used in Ireland and Malta) and list sytems (used in Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden and Switzerland). Every one of these countries is ranked higher than the UK on the Economist’s Democracy Index.
Find out more at www.makevotesmatter.org.uk