Animals explain the problem with first past the post

Wondering about the merits of first past the post? This video uses the animal kingdom to help explain the problems with it in public elections:

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • Matthew Huntbach 17th Mar '11 - 1:13pm

    The video is good stuff, and I hope the Yes-to-AV people are capable of producing as good stuff as this (so far they have not shown themselves at all capable). If the video were voiced in a slightly different way it could also serve well as the real No-to-AV argument. The No-to-AV campaign argue that FPTP produces a decisive result where there is almost always a Parliament with an overall majority for one party. This video demonstrates why that is. If No-to-AV had any honesty, they’d play this video and say “look – this shows just how FPTP means politics will always be between just two parties, and that’s a good thing as it means we always have clear one-party government”.

    I agree the analogy does not work completely, because (perhaps because it is from an American) it is really on the lines of using an electoral system to vote for a single position – President, or maybe Mayor – rather than for a representative chamber. FPTP may result in politics being squeezed into a two-party system, but is not necessarily the same two-party system in every constituency. The video shows well how FPTP tends to squeeze out all but the biggest two parties, but in different parts of the country which are the biggest two parties may differ. In fact this is another deleterious effect of FPTP, which is often missed by those campaigning for electoral reform – the way it can cause an exaggeration of regional difference. So, if there are three parties with roughly equal support, A, B and C, but it happens that in one part of the country B tends to get a bit more support than C and in another C tends to get a bit more support than B, you end up with one part of the country having an A-B two-party system, and the other part having an A-C two-party system. This ends up in B and C being seen as regional parties, because each gets wiped out in the part of the country where it had reasonable support but just not enough to escape the third-party squeeze. FPTP works savagely against minor parties whose support is spread fairly evenly across the country, but not against third parties whose support is concentrated regionally. The most obvious example of this is Northern Ireland, where the FPTP squeeze has resulted in a completely different party system from the rest of the UK.

  • Matthew Huntbach 17th Mar '11 - 1:30pm

    Jedibeeftrix (quoting Lord Norton)

    Indeed, a party with 10% of the seats may be in a position to wield disproportionate negotiating power.

    Which, of course, is NOT what we have seen in the present Parliament.

    Part of the problem the Liberal Democrats are facing now is that before May 2010 the idea that a third party holding the balance of power would have “disproportionate negotiating power” was widespread – held up by both Labour and the Tories as the main argument against electoral reform, and inspiring Liberal Democrats to think their day would come when it just happened they were in a no-majority Parliament. The Liberal Democrats are coming under huge attack now in a large part because of these raised expectations about what would happen when that day came – this is what happens when you are over-optimistic about what you can really achieve, it makes you look worse even when you have achieved what was realistic though way below your silly over-estimates.

    As we have seen, it may NOT be the case that the bigger two parties are eagerly promising everything to the third party in order to get into a coalition. No-one seems to have thought much beforehand about the fact that it’s not just up to the third party, it also depends on the willingness of the bigger two on forming a coalition. The third party has very little negotiating power if one of the big two parties would rather go into opposition than form a coalition, and the other offers only fairly stingy terms. It has less negotiating power still if it happens there is a fourth and fifth party etc enough to mean that only one of the big two parties has enough MPs for a coalition with the third party to have an overall majority. And the third party has even less negotiating power if it ran a rubbish election campaign, which meant its vote was on a downward trajectory on election day, and which suggests if it stood its ground and so forced another election, it would be the main loser.

    Consider now, who was in charge of the Liberal Democrats rubbish election campaign in 2010, and who is in charge of the Yes-to-AV campaign. And weep.

  • Debating about PR vs FPTP is pointless in this thread. PR is not an option in this referendum. AV retains a lot of the benefits of the current system and does away with the thing I really hate. The canard of being forced to 2nd guess your fellow voters intentions and then decide whether your preferred candidate has a chance or whether you need to support your least disliked candidate who has the most chance of stopping your most disliked candidate.

    Corralling the electorate into a 2 party system is becoming increasingly untenable although I understand if you benefit greatly from a system you will dislike greatly any attempt to change it.

    Lastly how much have we really gained by having radical policy shifts every 5-10 years? Is this the reason we still don’t have a long term energy policy? Is this why we are only now planning our 2nd high speed rail line in the UK? Is this why the NHS and our education system has to be re-organised every 7 years or so? And what is a manifesto worth anyway? Labour in their pomp was quite happy to discard manifesto commitments when it suited.

    But I must say these comments are the best arguments I have heard from the No camp. It certainly beats “the BNP will benefit” and “we need to use the money on body armour”

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