April 17, 2010
First past the post versus democracy
The BBC reports a poll for The Sun which shows the Conservatives leading the popular vote with 33%, the Liberal Democrats second with 30% and Labour third with 28%. While the poll is almost certainly an outlier, the big tell is what this would mean in parliamentary terms: Labour would be the biggest party with 276 seats, the Conservatives the second biggest with 245 and the Liberal Democrats the third with 100.
Savour that for a moment. Under the British first past the post electoral system, the party with the smallest share of the vote (of the big three) would get the greatest number of seats. The Conservatives, with 5% more support than Labour, would get 31 fewer seats. The Liberal Democrats, with 2% more support than Labour, would get barely a third the number of seats.
Next year, New Zealand will be holding a referendum on electoral reform, with one of the options on the ballot being to go back to a British-style first past the post system. The current British election shows that this would be a terrible, terrible choice. You can have first past the post, or you can have representative government: you can’t have both.
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