23 Mar 2015
The debate over electoral reform is a longstanding one. It has been around for decades and in true terms it is a debate over whether the current first-past-the-post (FPTP) system should be scrapped for a new one or not. The issue is of the most importance to political parties like the Liberal Democrats and the Green party who feel that they are suffering at the hands of the current majoritarian system known as FPTP. They argue that the first-past-the-post system not only makes the party with the most votes victorious but it makes them dominant throughout the political scene of the country which hurts the real representation of the rights and interests of the people and parts of the nation who do not support or agree with the policies and Manifesto of the winning party. These political parties have spoken against the current electoral system with the chants of "fair voting" and perhaps, their loud chants might have finally been heard as illustrated by the 2010 elections. However, the legitimacy of the demand for electoral reform can be questioned. It can be argued that the effort to make the opinions of every citizen count is in reality a step to get into power and stay there. Political parties such as the Liberal Democrats could only be looking to take the political dominance from the hands of the political giants and keeping it for their own use instead of putting an end to it.
Dwelling on the demerits of the current electoral system can lead one to believe that the current system needs to be changed yet the other systems are by no means perfect either. The alternatives to FPTP do not guarantee to have a significant impact on the election results. Studies have shown that the Alternative Vote (AV) system, which looks to be the preferred replacement for FPTP in the case of an electoral reform, would not have had much impact on the outcome of the 2010 general elections (Travis 2010). According to the data compiled by the Electoral Reform Society, the Alternative Vote system would have only favored the Liberal Democrats by 22 more seats which would not have made much difference.
Protests and demonstrations have been at quite some level throughout the United Kingdom by the supporters of the electoral reform (Couzens 2010; Hewitt 2010). The 2010 general elections witnessed chaos, confusion and bad treatment of the voters. Many people were turned away from the voting booths after cueing up for hours. Some of the polling stations ran out of ballot papers. People did not get the chance to vote because of these problems which made them more concerned about their rights and the value of their vote. This concern can be a possible factor of the protests and the increase in the supporters of the electoral reform. Conveniently, Nick Clegg has managed to capture the image of a hero to the supporters of electoral reform. With his growing popularity and the position of the Deputy Prime Minister, Clegg has a very good chance at making the electoral reform occur.
It can be said that the recent general election has not illustrated that the United Kingdom needs an electoral reform but that the political parties need to agree to have electoral reform in order to form government. The election results saw no party getting the minimum number of votes required to form a government. Therefore, both the Conservatives and the Labour Party needed to agree to electoral reform to gain the support of Nick Clegg and try to form a coalition government (Wintour 2010, 2-13). The Conservatives and the Labour Party agreed to electoral reform and tried to talk the Labour Democrats into forming a coalition government with them, respectively. This fact can be used to argue that the political parties are just power-hungry and that the electoral reform is just another excuse for a revolutionary idea.
After many talks among the political parties, the end result of the 2010 general election was a coalition government between the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats. The Conservatives have agreed to have a referendum on whether the Alternative Vote system be used for the next elections or not. This coalition seems to have started well but coalition governments do not have a successful record. It is quite possible that this coalition may break up over the issue of electoral reform. It would prove itself that the political parties cannot co-exist in the government and that FPTP system is the most suitable one because it mostly results in a majority government although some can argue against it by claiming that the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats are on the same page. Douglas Carswell, the Conservative MP for Clacton, has been supporting electoral reform since as early as February 2010; however, he is against the system of Alternative Vote. He states in his blog, "I do think that we need to reform the electoral system" (Carswell 2010). He supports electoral reform but does not agree to Alternative Vote. "There is an appetite for a newÂ politics that isÂ more niche, distinctive, particular and local.Â Â Yet AV (alternativeÂ votes) makes politics theÂ precise opposite. It turnsÂ politics into aÂ game of second preferences" (Carswell 2010). The fate of this coalition and the electoral system seems to depend on whether or not the two political parties agree on the same replacement for the first-past-the-post system.
Another argument against electoral reform is that supporters of electoral reform do not want to make every vote count but they want to make all of their votes count. They wanted to put a Lib-Lab lock on the electoral system to gain and retain power for a long time and to prevent the Conservatives from becoming any kind of threat (Mount 2010). They wanted to put themselves in power permanently but the rare kind of results of the elections changed the whole scenario and the power-hungry parties started looking to work out deals with each other in order to get into power. Such deals which are solely made for the purpose of personal benefit will be normal under the system of proportional representation. Under FPTP, it becomes clear how people voted but under the system of PR, politicians will be free to determine and fix the intentions of the voters according to the way they want them to be.
Thus, it cannot be judged whether electoral reform will be successful or not before it occurs but it all depends on how this coalition government works out. Presently, there are protests to bring a change in the electoral system. In the future, there might be the same protests; the only difference would be that AV would be the system that would be attacked.
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