Debating Electoral Systems

Debating electoral systems

Electoral reform has been seriously discussed in the UK since the 1980s, with the emergence of a strong third party (the Liberal Party, then the Liberal/SDP Alliance, and finally the Liberal Democrats) which struggled to turn its support into representation. As a result, the Lib Dems have consistently supported electoral reform. The Labour Party developed an appetite for this during its long time in opposition (1979-1997) when there was a belief that the only way to return to power would be through a coalition. However, this appetite diminished following the three Labour election victories in 1997, 2001 __and __2005.

The Conservative Party has consistently been the most strongly opposed to electoral reform, likely because FPTP __consistently over-represents its support. In __2010 __however, an agreement was reached with the Lib Dems that a referendum on changing the Westminster voting system would be held. The AV proposal was a compromise- the Lib Dems wished to introduce __STV, the Conservatives to retain FPTP.

AV was argued to be a good alternative to FPTP- the existing constituency system would remain, and the possibility of strong, single-party government would persist. In addition, MPs would be elected on the basis of at least 50% support in their constituency, ensuring strong representation. However, critics of AV argued that it was not significantly more proportional than FPTP. If the system had been in place in 1997, Labour’s majority would have been 245 (rather than 178)- an even more disproportional outcome.

The defeat of AV in __2011 __seemed to put the issue of electoral reform to rest. However, the __2015 __election has been described as the most disproportional in history, __FPTP __being very unsuited to an age of multi-party politics. 24.2% of Commons seats were won by MPs who would not have won under a proportional system. 63% of voters voted for losing candidates.

Debates over electoral systems can be summarised as a debate between what is more important:

  1. An effective government (much more likely to be achieved through simple plurality systems such as FPTP) which can get things done, has a strong mandate and can fulfil manifesto commitments


  1. A representative government (more likely to be achieved through proportional governments) which may be a coalition, represents a broader percentage of the electorate and actually reflects how the population voted
What is the party list system used for in the UK?
Your answer should include: European / Parliament / Elections
What type of system is first-past-the-post?
Plurality System
What percentage of the vote did the Conservatives win in 2015?
Your answer should include: 36% / 36
How many seats did UKIP win in 2015?
Which party became the first to win an overall majority in the Scottish Parliament in 2011?
Which system is used to elect London Mayors?
Which system is used to elect members to the Northern Ireland Assembly?
What percentage of the vote did the Liberal Democrats receive in 2010?
Your answer should include: 23% / 23
Which party won the most seats in the 2014 European Parliament election?
Which voting system used in the UK is the most purely proportional?
Party list