Why First Past the Post is such an awful electoral system

 

If the polls are right, we are heading for one of the most grossly disproportionate and illegitimate election results ever, and forming a government may be completely impossible after May. The latest poll has Labour and the Tories on 31%, with UKIP on 16%, and the Lib Dems and Greens both on 8%. Meanwhile, in Scotland, the SNP have a 10% lead over Labour, with Labour on 31% and the SNP on 41%.

On a fully proportional system, Labour and the Conservatives would win 201 seats each, with 104 seats for UKIP, with 52 seats each for the Lib Dems and Green Party, and 40 seats for other and minor parties. But the UK does not have a fully proportional system. The electoral system used by the UK is First Past the Post.

First Past the Post is an electoral system that was created in the 18th century, when there were only two political parties, the Liberal Party and the Conservative Party. At the time, it was relatively simple. Whoever came first in each constituency won that constituency, and whoever came 1st in the most constituencies won the election. This is clearly a flawed approach for the modern era. To give an example of how FPTP tends to produce disproportionate results, let us simulate a first past the post election in 5 seats. Let us assume that party C wins 23.6% of the vote, and Party B wins 25% of the vote, and Party A wins 45% of the vote, with other parties winning the remainder. Let us also assume that the vote for party C is much more concentrated than the vote for party B, and that the other parties fail to get over an electoral threshold required for PR seat allocation. With a fully proportional system, Party A would win 2 seats, with 2 seats also for party B, and party C winning the final seat. But, often in a FPTP election, such a seat projection often turns out like this:

Constituency A:
Party A: 60%
Party B: 20%
Party C: 20%

Constituency B:
Party A: 40%
Party B: 30%
Party C: 15%

Constituency C:
Party C: 38%
Party A: 35%
Party B: 20%

Constituency D:
Party A: 50%
Party B: 20%
Party C: 20%

Constituency E:
Party A: 40%
Party B: 35%
Party C: 25%

So, as you can see, although Party B comes second in nearly every seat, and has a higher % of the vote than Party C in this region, Party A nearly cleansweeps the election, winning 80% of seats, with Party C winning a solitary seat, and 0% of seats for Party B, despite its higher share of the vote than Party C. This kind of disprportionate result was seen in the UK General Election of 1983, when the Labour Party won over 180 more seats than the SDP, despite polling only a few hundreds of thousands of votes more, and Thatcher won a massive landslide. Another example is the February 1974 election, when the Liberals attracted 19% of the vote, and won just 4% of seats. Why does our electoral system tend to produce such massively disproportionate results?

The answer lies, firstly, in local strength. Labour and the Conservatives have always had thousands more councillors than the Lib Dems, or any other party. As a result, they are able to campaign hard in constituencies and squeeze out enough votes to see off smaller political parties. Therefore, it is also clear that the result of an FPTP election does not depend on the share of the vote that political parties get, and this is an effective irrelevence. The result depends on which party has the most broadly widespread and distributed support across the country. This is also partially the reason for the so-called “Labour-Tory gap”, a phenomenon where Labour can win many more seats more than the Tories on the same share of the vote nationally, primarily due to the Labour vote being distributed evenly around the country. It is said that where the Tories win a seat, they win it by 10 or 15,000 votes, and where Labour win a seat, they win it by 100. This is, however, changing, primarily due to events taking place in Scotland. Now, it may be Labour who will be partially disadvantaged by our voting system, as opinion polls in Scotland would see Labour losing the vast majority of its seats North of the border, whereas under a regional party list PR system, the party would be set to hold around half of those seats.

Another major problem with FPTP is the fact that is disenfranchises people in safe seats. Turnout in safe Labour seats in particular has taken a major blow over recent decades. The appearance of safe seats, and the fact that votes effectively do not count in those seats, a phenomenon only seen in first past the post, disenfranchises voters and makes many feel that the way they vote makes no difference to the overall result, whereas in a party list PR system or a multi-member proportional system, voters can cast a second vote for a regional list that will definitely make a difference. The fact that MPs and councillors in safe seats also have less of an incentive to keep in contact with and represent local residents adequately is another major blow to FPTP, especially at a time when trust in politics is lower than it has been at any time since the early 1970s.

An argument in favour of FPTP has been that it tends to produce strong government. However, it is highly likely that the next UK general election will result in a hung parliament, the second hung parliament in a row. This strongly undermines the argument that FPTP avoides horse trading, as horse trading on a scale never seen before may be required after the May election. Another argument in favour of FPTP is that the constituency link is broken with a party-list PR system. This is true to some extent. However, mixed member proportional systems such as AMS, or semi proportional system such as Alternative Vote +, retain the constituency link whilst also making sure that votes in safe seats count, as a seperate party list is used to proportionately elect list members to represent a particular electoral region, as well as an MP for the voter in his own constituency.

To sum up, First Past the Post has numerous problems. It is an 18th century electoral system, built for a two party system, and is not fit for the thriving, multi-party democracy that is UK politics today. Politicians and political parties must be ready and willing to accept this change, even if it is at the cost of less members of parliament for their own respective parties, and more consensus politics.

Voting age should not be lowered, says UKIP deputy leader Paul Nuttall

A UKIP politician has said that the voting age for 16-18 year olds should not be lowered.

Paul Nuttall, the UKIP deputy leader, claimed that young people were being bombarded by “pro-EU propaganda lessons”, which affected their judgement, and said that youngsters were naive, and did not know who to vote for. 

“It is perfectly obvious why Labour have committed to introducing this measure within a year of taking power – naive youngsters tend to have Utopian dreams of life and can be more gullible”, said Mr Nuttall. Mr Nuttall then went on to say that he was against lowering the voting age because young people “do not have enough life experience to make sound judgements”.

 

Mr Nuttall, a North West MEP, expressed his views, just days after Ed Miliband reaffirmed Labour’s commitment to lowering the voting age, at a Fabian society event held on Saturday. Miliband also said that he would make sure that the voting age was lowered as soon as possible, to allow youngsters to vote in the 2016 local elections. 

 

UKIP is noted for the lack of enthusiasm among young people for the party. At the 2014 Local Council elections, Suzanne Evans, the former UKIP councillor for Merton who lost her seat, suggested that the party did poorly in London because the voters were “Too educated, cultured, and young.” A poll by channel 4 found that UKIP was doing much worse in the 18-24 year old demographic than the general electorate as a whole.

In response to Nuttall’s assertions that young people lack the necessary knowledge needed to make an informed decision, Mike Kane, the Labour Party MP for Wythenshawe and Sale East, rejected Nuttal’s assertions.

“I am not sure what Mr Nuttall means about 16 year olds having no life experience. He himself is no horny handed son of toil. As I go around the constituency visiting schools, our youth groups and youth council I find young people who are engaged and interested in politics, organising clean ups and working to change the area in which they live for the better. Why shouldn’t they be entitled to vote?”

Devo Manc: Who are the candidates?

George Osborne recently proposed that Manchester should have a directly elected Mayor, which was recently accepted by the leaders of the Greater Manchester councils. The first directly elected Mayoral election will be in 2017, but, until then, in the meantime, an interim mayor will be selected. The campaign to select the citywide mayor has already started. The interim mayor will be selected by the end of this year. So, the question remains, who are the likely candidates?
Well, effectively, the criteria for selection to be interim mayor, is so constricting and limited, that only a small number of candidates have any realistic chance of being able to run and win. Here they are:
 
1: Richard Leese
Richard Leese, the leader of Manchester City Council, has a lot to gain from this. He has been pushing for a mayor for Manchester from the very beginning, and is reportedly keenly enthusiastic about the prospect. Leese is also a Labour Party member, which will stand him in good stead, as Greater Manchester is dominated by the Labour Party, and the selection panel is set to be 2/3rds Labour. Leese also wrote an article in the Guardian which supported his intentions to run for the mayoral post.
2: Tony Lloyd
If simply being high profile would secure you the nomination, Tony Lloyd would easily secure it. The current Greater Manchester PCC boasts a considerably impressive CV, as former chair of the parliamentary Labour party during the height of its electoral success in the Blair/Brown years, and was originally the MP for Stretford, which will appeal to people in Greater Manchester who fear the prospect of a mayor from the city becoming too Manchester-Centric. Also, the fact that his job as GMPCC would come under the control of the Mayor, should be one reason why people should watch this space. He is reported to be “Very keen” about the prospect of running.

3: Yasmin Qureshi

The only non-white MP in Greater Manchester, Yasmin Qureshi may run just to get some diversity into the pack of mainly otherwise white, old, male candidates, but is unlikely to win, as she does not have the senior council or government negotiation experience that is required.
 4: Lord Peter Smith
Lord Peter Smith is the leader of Wigan council, and also the leader of the GMCA (Greater Manchester Combined Authority), a superauthority over Greater Manchester that has limited powers. He is regarded as being a safe pair of hands that would not polarise opinion in the same way as Lloyd or Leese would, but may be trumped by the more flamboyant Lloyd.
 5: Hazel Blears


The Motley Crew by Coneee, on Flickr

Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License   by  Coneee 
Hazel Blears is another Labour figure who has the necessary experience needed to become mayor of Manchester for the interim period: After all, she was secretary of state for local government and communities. However, Blears is stepping down from parliament and is thought to not be very enthusiastic about the prospect of running for the interim post, so there is only a slim chance that she will become the Mayor.

Can Ed Miliband win the election?

 

Labour Party Conference 2014 (57 of 98). by AnthonyMck, on Flickr
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License   by  AnthonyMck 
For many years, we have been told that Ed Miliband is a weak leader, not fit to win the election, and not fit to become prime minister. Well, the moment has finally arrived when we will find out! It is January 2015, and the general election is just 4 months away. So, with 4 months to go, what is the state of play? Can Ed Miliband beat David Cameron, or will David Cameron cling on for 5 more years of Toryism?
On my other blog, which can be found here, every Sunday, I do a calculation of where each political party is, by doing an average score out of all of the opinion polls that were conducted during the week. My most recent results have the Labour party 1% ahead, on 34%, the Conservatives a whisker behind on 33%, UKIP trailing far behind on 15%, the Liberal Democrats on 7%, and the Green Party equal with the Lib Dems at a historic high in general election voting intentions, on 7%. Now, it is notoriously difficult for a party to get back into power after just one term out of office, and this is partially what may be holding Labour back from being miles ahead. Another thing which may be holding Labour back is the awful approval ratings of Ed Miliband. Recent polling by YouGov suggests that his personal ratings may have sunk to an all time low, behind the politically poisonous Nick Clegg. Despite all this, however, Labour does retain a small lead in opinion polls, which in theory would give Ed Miliband a workable majority.
Labour Party Conference 2014 (29 of 98). by AnthonyMck, on Flickr
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License   by  AnthonyMck 
However, this is where Scotland comes in. Recent polling in Scotland shows that Labour may lose over half of its MPs there, as a result of a surge in Scottish Nationalist support following the independence referendum. This would be a dramatic blow to any chance of Ed Miliband winning the election. It is up to Scottish Labour Party leader Jim Murphy to turn this dramatic reversal in fortunes for Labour around. To give you a sense of the kind of difference Scottish MPs would make to the election result, here is a prediction I made, using election prediction software, showing the difference between the result with no divergence in Scotland, and with the result shown if the collapse of Labour in Scotland is taken into account.
Logo pic edited
Without Scottish difference

As you can see, without taking Scottish polling into account, Labour looks to be heading for a majority. But, watch what happens when I take Scotland polling into account (Currently Labour is on around 29% and the SNP are on 43%, according to opinion polling) and the result changes quite dramatically.

logo pic scenario 2

As you can see, the distance between both Labour and the Conservatives narrows, and the number of “Other seats” increases quite dramatically, due to massive  gains from Labour and the Lib Dems. Although the Labour party does marginally better as a whole across England, as a result of its poor polling in Scotland being taken into account, and makes 10 extra gains from the conservatives, these are overshadowed by its losses in its Scottish citadels. The major worry for Ed Miliband would be if Labour slip back further in the English and Welsh marginals, in which case Scottish losses may prove a decisive blow to Miliband and his hopes of becoming the next prime minister. David Cameron, at the moment, has little to cheer, but he has time to turn this around, and Nick Clegg must be horrified at the projected number of Lib Dem losses on a uniform national swing. So, to sum up, whilst the position of the Labour Party does remain vulnerable, Ed Miliband does indeed have a good chance of becoming the next PM.

Ferguson: My view

If you watched the morning news after waking up today, you will have seen the images of devastation from Ferguson, in Missouri, after a jury decided not to bring charges against a white cop who killed Michael Brown, a black teenager. Many in the African-American community had called for murder charges to be brought against the police officer, but the charges were rejected by the jury. As a result, mass rioting ensued overnight in Ferguson, California, and other places with a large ethnic minority population. Protestors chanted “Justice for Michael Brown” and “Hands up, don’t shoot!”, as a reference to what Michael Brown is thought to have said the moment before he was shot by the cop, PC Darren Wilson. The jury voted 9/12 against bringing forward murder charges against Mr Wilson.

My view of the case is that the verdict is a gross miscarriage of justice. This is not the first time that a black person has become a victim of a white aggressor, and the white aggressor manages to escape any serious criminal charges. George Zimmerman, Stephen Lawrence, Travyon Martin, and now Michael Brown, are all cases where there has been a gross miscarriage of justice and where the narrative and the verdicts seem to be similar. The jury system itself is flawed when it comes to issues of race. 9/12 of the jurors were white….and all 9 voted against raising charges against Mr Wilson. Clearly, with modern American society being so polarised, and with a majority of white Americans holding racist views when it comes to attitudes toward African Americans, the jury system is clearly quite deeply flawed, and has to be changed to prevent such miscarriages of justice occurring in the future.

Clearly, the rioting and looting is unacceptable, and attempting to take the law into your own hands is wrong, full stop, but there are deep-seated reasons as to why African-Americans feel so deeply disillusioned with the justice system in America, and why they feel that nobody is listening. For the first time in its history, the United States has a black president, Barack Obama of the Democratic Party, and so such miscarriages must be addressed by him. It is time that it was addressed, and that every American, white, black, hispanic, jewish or asian, gets a fair deal.

Blogging and Journalism: The similarities and differences.

A screenshot of the Snowblog
A screenshot of the Snowblog

Although many people would like to argue that blogging is a distinct and seperate form of media to Journalism, I would argue that Journalism and Blogging are two very similar forms. This does not stop many Journalists holding the very idea of blogging in contempt, as Andrew Marr famously did in 2010, when he described bloggers as being ‘inadequate, pimpled and single’. The similarities between the two are quite striking. Both are information sources, both have a very similar style of writing, and both are globally accessible. It is just as easy to access the Guardian.com website in Timbuktu, for example, as it is to access mrrealpolitik.blogspot.com in Ulaanbattar. For these reasons, many would argue that blogging in fact represents a distinct form of Journalism, that is different to News, TV, or Radio Journalism, but nonetheless has so many Journalistic features that it must be considered to be a part of it.

However, there are many differences with blogging when compared to general article writing. A prime example of this can be seen in Nick Robinson’s blog  on the BBC. His articles on his blog are far more opinion-based than his articles elsewhere on the BBC, or when he is on the TV or Radio. For instance, he specifically uses the words “in my view” to show that it is his personal opinion, and not the line he has been told to write by his editor or the impartiality rules he is normally bound by when he appears on the BBC. The tone of the Blog Post is also far more informal and personal than a similar article on the BBC would be, as he informs us that he is writing the blog post whilst he is waiting for an appointment in an NHS Hospital, and the language used is much more informal than in an ordinary BBC article written by Nick Robinson. Another good example would be Jon Snow and his blog. He gives a wide variety of inisghts and opinions that we do not usually hear from him when he is presenting the Channel 4 News.

Therefore, I conclude that, although blogging and other similar types of Journalism have many differences, they also have enough in common to be considered a similar type of Media, and that blogging ultimately comes under a wide variety of types of Journalism.