First Past the Post Doesn’t Work

There are now only 21 days until the UK general election and all the political talk going on has reminded me of a few videos on CGP Grey’s fantastic YouTube channel about voting systems.

In the UK we have a First Past the Post voting system that has a number of inherent problems. One such problem is that an MP can be voted into parliament by a minority of voters, leaving the majority of voters in a constituency unrepresented. CGP Grey’s video on the 2015 election explains this well:

To re-iterate what is said in the video, there are clearly issues with the way we vote. Look at the table below of the 2015 election results.

Votes Seats Vote Share (%) Vote Share as Seats Difference
Conservative 11,334,576 331 36.9 240 91
Labour 9,347,304 232 30.4 198 34
UKIP 3,881,099 1 12.6 82 -81
Liberal Democrat 2,415,862 8 7.9 51 -43
Scottish National Party 1,454,436 56 4.7 31 25
Green Party 1,157,613 1 3.8 25 -24

The table shows the 2015 results for the top six parties ordered by percentage vote share. The first three columns of figures show the actual votes, seats and vote share for each party. The fourth column gives the vote share as a number of the 650 parliamentary seats. So, if instead of voting for an MP to represent us we were voting purely for a party, the share of seats would be very different and our votes would be better reflected in the make-up of parliament.  As you can see this benefits greatly parties like UKIP, the Lib Dems and the Greens and reduces the power of the main parties, the Conservatives and Labour.

A downside to apportioning seats in this way is that you don’t get to vote for a local candidate. CGP Grey has a play list of videos discussing the different voting systems and how this could be addressed: Voting Systems Playlist.

Tactical Voting

The reason I mention the above is that with the coming election, some parties have called for tactical voting arrangements where they won’t put forward a candidate or actively canvas in a constituency where another candidate has a better chance of beating a Conservative candidate.  Critics of these tactics accuse the parties of denying voters a choice and subverting democracy.  They say it turns voting into a grubby vote-swapping game and doesn’t allow voters to choose the candidate they really support.  However, I would say these tactics are necessary to counteract a clear bias towards the main two parties in our voting system.  Yes, it means that we don’t have the satisfaction of voting for our natural first choice, but we need to be realistic.  Tactical voting will, in the end, give us a greater voice than faithful adherence to voting for ‘our party’ will in this current system.

Better Representation

In the long term parliament needs to re-examine the voting system and give us a better choice than we were given in the 2011 referendum on alternative voting.  As CGP Grey points out, AV is riddled with many of the same problems that FPTP has, but it isn’t the only way to provide voters with better representation.



Digital problem solver / creative, programmer, sometime WWOOFer, traveller, meditator, English tutor. I love visiting new places, meeting new people and learning new skills. Currently grappling with Mandarin Chinese.

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Posted in Brighton & Hove, tuppence
May 2017
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