First Past The Post is not the British eccentricity that its detractors claim; and so what if it were? It is in fact the single most used electoral system in the democractic world, according to which fully forty-nine per cent of free electors go to the polls. "Proportional Representation", by contrast, is merely the generic term for any other electoral system whatever, of which there must be hundreds, if not thousands if one includes those which are no longer in use, or have only ever been proposed but never implemented.
Contrary to what is often asserted, Britain has had several revolutions. What we have not had, at least for a very long time, is blood in the streets. This is because FPTP enabled those revolutions to take place within the constitutional, parliamentary, eventually democractic process, within which anything is in principle reversible, since no Parliament can bind its successors. Without FPTP, there would be no constitutional way of either bringing about or preventing radical chnage, so unconstitutional, anti-constitutional, anti-parliamentary means would be employed instead.
The end of FPTP for the House of Commons would be its end for local government, too. Any other system would create enormous difficulties at the former level, and be wholly impractical at the latter level, in rural areas. County Councillors and many District Councillors would never really do anything except drive around their vast, unwieldy, multimember wards. Faced with such a prospect, next to no one would seek election. (The mania for unitary local government expresses the same urban tunnel vision.)
Far from being a weakness, the fact that FPTP requires all political parties to be coalitions in order to make any electoral progress is one of the very strongest arguments in its favour. Anyone who has been active in such a party is used to the coalition-building that is the stuff of democractic, constitutional politics; to those who have made it to the very top, this must surely be more first than second nature. Yet this would not be, and is not, the case where ideologically purist and fanatical factions are guaranteed at least some seats, and might even hold the balance of power in a true tyranny of the minority.
Therefore, among other reasons, I propose the introduction, by agreement among the parties if possible, of a system whereby each constituency party submitted a shortlist of two potential parliamentary candidates to a binding ballot of all registered electors in that constituency, and each party at national level submitted a shortlist of two potential Leaders (i.e., putative Prime Ministers) to a binding ballot of all registered electors throughout the United Kingdom. Among other good things, this would help to defend FPTP at both national and (therefore) local level. In fact, if one party adopted it, then the other two would in practice have to do so as well.
Monday, 10 April 2006
First Past The Post
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