Asses the different criticisms of electoral systems in the UK

There are numerous widespread criticisms of electoral systems in the UK, such as some systems such as FPTP and AV’s clear disproportionality and voter wastage, as well as the tendency towards a two party system which give the established parties too much power. However, the alternate voting systems of STV, Party list and AMS, proposed to remedy these problems also fall under criticisms because of their over proportionality, which some argue gives a chance to ‘extremist’ groups and can often lead to weak and inadequate government.

The most significant criticism of electoral systems such as FPTP and AV is that it provides a disproportionate result, which effectively doesn’t represent the will of the electorate. For example, in the 2015 general election, despite UKIP winning 12.6% of the vote (4 million) this translated into only one seat in the house of commons; clearly exemplifying that the electorates votes are being wasted, as well as a whole host of problems that are argued to all stem from the disproportionality of the system. Despite AV being proposed as an alternate electoral system meant to remedy some of FPTP’s flaws, it is only considered semi-proportional and in certain electoral conditions, such as the 2015 general election, can actually produce a more disproportionate outcome than FPTP. However, others suggest that this disproportionality is only limited and is a necessary feature of strong and stable government.

Both systems are also criticised for their tendency to cause a two party system, where smaller parties are disregarded and the established parties are given too much power. For example, throughout the entire use of FPTP there have only been two parties- the Conservatives and Labour- who have ever won an outright majority in a general election. Furthermore, a prominent example, is the same system in American which lends itself to only having the two main parties of the Democrats and the Republicans. It is argued that this is extremely flawed as it gives the established parties too much power, therefore disillusioning voters and undermining democracy. AV is also said to promote a two party rule as in a close three-way system the ‘compromise’ candidate could be defeated in the first round, even though they may be more broadly acceptable to the electorate. However, having said this preferential voting is meant to give the electorate more choice and has the ability to achieve a more proportional result than FPTP.

Despite the numerous flaws of FPTP and AV, the proposed PR systems such as STV, Party list and AMS have often been criticised for their over-proportionality, which could result in the rise of extremist parties. For example, in the 2010 general election the BNP won just over half a million votes, which in a PR system could result in a very large number of seats, giving the BNP a possibility of forming part of a coalition government and therefore of having a significant part of governing. However, the counter argument to this is that if so many of the British people voted for the BNP then they should not be marginalised and their votes should manifest themselves in UK governance.

Another major criticism of these systems it that they often lead to weak government formed by coalitions. As systems such as STV, Party List and AMS represent accurately the variety of views throughout the electorate and this often means that coalitions have to be formed which can make decision making extremely difficult. For example, in Israel, to form a coalition government the Israeli prime minister had to join a coalition that included very extremist right wing members. As these individuals differ so highly in policy it has made governing extremely difficult and weak and lead to the ability of the smaller parties to hold to ransom the larger ones. Furthermore, in Countries that use PR systems there are often very short term coalition governments that are constantly changing such as in Italy and Greece. However, these criticisms are often considered the views of the minority as England are one of the only countries in Europe who do not use a PR system and on balance the negatives of PR are not as significant as the negative implications of FPTP and AV.

One of the main criticism of electoral systems in the UK is its disproportionality highlighted by FPTP and AV, which disregard the votes of the people and lead to questions of legitimacy with minority rule. Furthermore, these two systems are often criticised for their tendency towards supporting only the two main parties, that are given too much power. However, the proposed alternative systems also fall under criticism for being over proportional as they could result in the rise of extremist parties and lead to weak unstable government. However, on balance PR systems tend to have less significant negatives than that of FPTP and AV as highlighted by the fact that the United Kingdom is one of the only countries in Europe not to use a PR system.

Lara Andrews

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