Why criticism of the FPTP system is misguided

Every election is a moment of national political mobilisation – that’s why they’re so exciting. Things get very emotional in the run up to polling day, and a couple of days after that. But once the dust has started to settle, people often start asking bigger questions. Is our political system a good one? Should we change it?

Virtually without exception, a great number of self-proclaimed experts on British constitution emerge after every election. We’ve now heard how our electoral system is rotten, how the entire political structure is about to disintegrate and how hugely undemocratic, unfair and unjust the Westminster model of government is. Those who lost the election now claim it’s because of the First Past the Post system rather than because of any fault on their side. But do you know what – I actually think the UK political system is great.

There is no objective yardstick against which we can measure a political system: fairness is a vague concept that means different things to different people. If you were given a tabula rasa and you could create your own country with its political system completely up to you, you would face many trade-offs. For example, what’s more important: the stability and clarity of First Past the Post or the more accurate representation you get with PR? Checks and balances like in the US or fusion of powers like in the UK? 

The grass is always greener on the other side. Whilst many people in this country are very envious of the proportional systems used by most countries on the continent, many European nations go on about how much they wish their system was more like the one in Blighty. In Europe, you get parties which only focus on a teeny part of the electorate, get six or eight percent of the vote and make parliament a very unpleasant place. It’s no coincidence that the Polish president, hoping to be re-elected in the ongoing election at the moment, has promised to introduce FPTP in Poland. Similar conversations are being had around the globe.

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And let’s not forget: had the most recent election happened under PR, we would still have a Tory government. It’s just that it might be forced to repeal gay marriage under pressure from Northern Irish Unionists, or kick out those bloody Eastern European immigrants stealing our university places (like myself) under pressure form UKIP. You are quite right: we are now governed by a majority government which received just over 37 per cent of the vote. But remember: that’s exactly 37 percentage points more that the last coalition manifesto received.

For countries aspiring to democratise, the UK has always been the first point of call. Some people believe that it would be fairer to replace our system of government with a continuous series of marches and demonstrations (or ‘demos’ apparently – so good to see the radical Left using ancient Greek), but I simply don’t buy that. Go live in Russia or the Stans in Central Asia for a couple of years – after all, they use PR, so they must be really democratic – then come back and tell me how rotten Britain is. I’m seeing my auntie in Moscow this summer, feel free to join me.