Should Britain Reform The Existing Electoral System For General Elections?

1099 words - 4 pages

The debate over electoral reform in Britain has risen up the political agenda in recent years. From 1979 to 1992 the Conservatives won overall majorities in the House of Commons in four consecutive elections without once winning more than 50% of the vote. In 1997 the Labour Party gained total power, even though 11 out of 20 people voted against them. Critics of our current system would therefore argue that the results of Britain's elections currently do not reflect the wishes of the electorate, and call for reform of the plurality system. The current system of voting for general elections in Britain and Northern Ireland is called the plurality system. In order to win a constituency a candidate needs to win more votes than any other candidate. They do not necessarily require more than 50% of the vote, just enough to beat the other contenders. This results in a situation where an MP can be elected to parliament without the majority backing of their constituents.Most elections currently result in a single party gaining an overall majority, so the winning party can easily implement its policies without interference. When a political party is elected in a general election, they are given a mandate by the public to carry out the items on their manifesto. As a single party with an overall majority it is more able to fulfil the promises it made to the electorate. Coalition governments (which proportionally representative systems often produce) are formed as a result of compromise deals between parties after a general election. So the public has not directly voted for the new programme of the combined parties. Coalitions with other parties can allow smaller parties an undue influence, which does not reflect the wishes of a large section of the population. In this sense, coalition governments are undemocratic.The current system also encourages strong links between an MP and the local community. Single member constituencies mean that local people can express their grievances directly to their representative. It is also easily understood by the electorate, and therefore encourages wide participation. It has the advantage of simplicity and familiarity and is widely accepted.Those who call for reform largely have a vested interest. It is not surprising that the Liberal Democrats support the idea of Proportional Representation because they would benefit from it at election time. Watts argues that 'A bias in favour of the strong would be replaced by an undue influence given to the weak'. Proportional representation systems often put crucial government decisions in the hands of small minority parties. Watts also argues that the alternatives to our system are often complex and are not without other problems.Critics of the plurality system argue that votes cast for a losing candidate in a constituency are ignored in seat allocation. Also, votes that add to the winning candidate's majority give no extra benefit to the party whose candidate has won. The...

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