The First Past the Post voting system

The voting system used to elect MPs to the UK Parliament is called First Past the Post (FPTP).

The FPTP electoral system is used to elect MPs to the House of Commons. For the purpose of the election, the UK is divided into 650 areas or constituencies (seats) and at the election the candidate with the most votes becomes the MP.

In addition to voting for a local MP, voters are also taking part in choosing a government. The party with the most MPs becomes the government. In 2015, the Conservatives had more MPs than all the other parties put together (a majority of the MPs) so they became the government.

In 2010, unusually,no party won a majority of the MPs (had more MPs than all the other parties put together) so the Conservative Party (the largest party after the election) invited the Liberal Democrat Party to share power in a coalition government.

People voting inside a polling station
People voting inside a polling station

Advantages of FPTP

  • Close MP-constituency relationship: One representative is elected for each constituency and this usually means there will be a strong constituency-MP relationship. It also means that if voters do not like their MP they can also vote to get rid of an individual person.
  • One party strong government: Usually one party wins the election which means the winning party gets five years to put its plans (given in its manifesto) into action. In 2015 it was the Conservative Party who won the General Election.
  • Simplicity: The FPTP system is easily understood and familiar. Voters were given the chance a few years ago to get rid of FPTP for UK parliament elections but they choose to keep it.

Disadvantages of FPTP

  • Minority of the vote: In most constituencies more people (in total) vote against the winning candidate than for them. Sometimes an MP can be elected on a vote as low as only 35%, a minority, of the vote. The winning party is also usually elected by less than 50% of the voters. In 2015, the Conservative Party won the election and formed the government but only 36.9% of the people who voted chose to support the Conservatives.

First past the post voting system used in UK Parliament

  • Smaller parties do not gain fair representation: In 2015, UKIP polled 12.6% of the vote but returned only 1 MP. In Scotland, Labour received 24.3% of the vote and returned 1 MP, while the SNP received 50% of the vote and returned 56 of the 59 Scottish MPs.
  • Tactical voting: It is argued that FPTP encourages tactical voting (or people not bothering to vote) as they think their vote will have little chance of helping elect their candidate. For example, in a constituency or seat that usually returns a Conservative MP (sometimes called a ‘safe’ seat), there is little point in a voter choosing Labour as they are unlikely to have their candidate elected. Where this happens, and it happens in many constituencies, people may vote not for a candidate they prefer but against a candidate they dislike. Two-thirds of constituencies in the UK are described as safe seats.