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The British Electoral System Essay

1776 words - 7 pages

The British Electoral System

In democratic states, electoral systems are of great importance.
Elections give people the right to choose their government; ensure
that governments represent the majority (or largest minority) of the
people; ensure peaceful changes of government (stability); allow
people with fresh ideas an opportunity to enter the political arena;
confer legitimacy of government and allow the government to expect
people to obey their rules. Unfortunately the British system, Simple
Plurality, (also known as 'First Past The Post') has come under fire
for its alleged discrimination against smaller parties and its
tendency to allow the losing party the ability to rule. Therefore,
this creates a question - is the British system fair and democratic,
or is it in need of drastic change?

There is no denying that the British system has its advantages. To
begin with, it is extremely simple. In fact, it has been argued that
the British system is the easiest to understand and operate. Only an
'X' is required - the voter does not need to have ordered preferences
- making the system accessible even to illiterate voters. Voters have
one choice, and subsequently understand that they are voting for an MP
of a particular party and, by implication, a party which they wish to
see in government.

As well as being the simplest system to use, Simple Plurality is also
fast and cheap. As there is only one count, the final result takes
around 24 hrs to obtain (10pm - polls close; 11pm - computer
predictions; 11:30pm - first constituency result; 2am - winner
announced) compared with the French 'Double Ballot' system, the
results of which take 7-8 days to be calculated. Not only that, but as
there is only one vote and not two, money is saved - the staff
required for counting are only paid once, making the process less

Furthermore, the system tends to (on the whole) produce stable
government. Stability requires there to be one party in government,
with a majority of seats in Parliament. This government must be
legitimate and should serve its full time in office (in Britain, this
is 4-5 years), while governments on the whole should not collapse
frequently if they claim to be stable. In the vast majority of cases,
Simple Plurality produces stable governments, and also governments
which are straightforward (i.e. not coalitions). The average length of
government in Britain is 3.5 years - relatively good when one
considers the length of a term. Also indicating stability are the low
number of government changes since 1945 (six), and the two very
lengthy Conservative 'patches'. While there have been three examples
of stability in 58 years (small gaps between General Elections), the
statistics imply that Simple Plurality does produce stable government.
Not only that, but this...

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