Campaigning for Labour to back proportional representation

Log in

what's wrong with first past the posT?

seats in parliament do not match votes cast

  • Since 1970, the winning party in a UK general election has never gained more than 45% of the vote
  • In five of the 12 elections since 1970, the government had an overall majority despite gaining less than 40% of the vote!
  • The bottom line: the UK is nearly always governed by a party that most people didn't vote for.
  • Under a system where seats matched votes, the UK would have been governed by a left-of-centre coalition for most of the past century.

Sometimes, the system works so badly that a party can "win" the election despite losing the popular vote.

  • In 1951, the Conservatives won an overall majority in Parliament - despite getting fewer votes than the Labour Party
  • In 1974, Labour formed the government, despite getting fewer votes than the Conservatives.

millions of votes are wasted

  • If you are a Labour voter living in a safe Tory seat, your vote is wasted from the start - the Tory will always get in, no matter what you do.
  • A large proportion of Labour votes in safe Labour seats are also wasted, because they are "surplus to requirements".
  • Most people who support smaller parties such as the Greens or the Lib Dems face a horrible choice on polling day: to vote for the party they support, in the sure knowledge that their vote will count for nothing, or to vote for a party they don't really support,  but that might have a chance of winning that seat.
  • Under FPTP, elections are decided by voters in a small number of marginal constituencies. This can't possibly be fair - after all, the outcome of the election affects everyone!

In the UK, estimates suggest that as many as 12-15% of people aren't registered to vote. Of those who are registered, about 30% don't turn out on polling day. It's no surprise that levels of apathy are so high in a system where so many votes count for nothing. Research shows that turnout is higher under PR systems.

Of the people who do go out to vote, about 20% vote tactically for a party they don't support, and about 30% vote for a losing candidate in a safe seat (some of these are the same people).

Surely it's not too much to ask that people should be able to go to vote on polling day, able to vote for the party they prefer, knowing that their vote will make a difference. 

the playing field isn't level

When an election is called, we like to think that all parties have a fair crack at the whip. Under FPTP, nothing could be further from the truth.

  • Regionally-based parties like the SNP do best out of FPTP, because they don't waste votes in areas outside their strongholds
  • The two large parties also do well out of FPTP, precisely because they are large. The Tories typically do much better than Labour, because many Labour votes are wasted in Labour strongholds where they are not needed.
  • Smaller national parties do worst of all - the Lib Dems have to work very hard for their seats, the Greens even harder, and UKIP harder still.
  • In 2015 the Lib Dems got 13 times more votes than the DUP (2.4 million to 184,000). But each party won 8 seats in parliament. For an even more shocking example, see the shaded panel....

In the 2015 election, the SNP got 1.5 million votes, and 56 MPs. UKIP got nearly 4 million votes, and only one MP.

We disagree with everything UKIP stands for - but this result is simply not fair.

Some people have suggested that FPTP is a good system because it keeps extreme parties, such as UKIP, out of Parliament. But despite being almost entirely unrepresented in Parliament, UKIP has driven the Tory party agenda, culminating in the vote to leave the EU.

We need a fair voting system that doesn't leave large swathes of people feeling that they don't have a voice.

fptp messes up politics

Under FPTP, a party that splits risks being wiped off the political map, even if it splits into two sections which jointly remain as popular as the original party. In the 1980s, a group of centrist Labour MPs split from Labour to form the SDP; although support for the SDP and for Labour together remained high, the split kept the Conservatives in power for years.   

The Brexit fiasco is arguably attributable to the efforts of successive Conservative prime ministers to keep the Conservative Party together, and avoid the risk of the right wing of the party splitting off.

A good case can be made that under a PR system, none of this would have happened. Under PR, if some of a party's supporters shift their support to another party, the worst that will happen is that the original party will lose some of their seats at the next election. Under FPTP, a party that loses a relatively small number of supporters can risk total annihilation at the polls.


Party splits do not pose a significant threat under PR systems, because each of the resulting parties can stand in future elections and win seats in proportion to their support. Then, the two parties could form a governing coalition - perhaps with other smaller parties.

Although FPTP has delivered coalitions in two of the last three elections, many British people see coalitions as unstable and undesirable, because FPTP only results in coalition government when one party has "failed" to win a majority.

However, the vast majority of developed countries hold elections under PR, and many of them are governed by coalitions. These coalition governments have several advantages: they represent over half the electorate, they tend to make consensus-based decisions, and they do not allow a single party to implement extreme policies without wider support.

first past the post favours a right-wing agenda

FPTP favours the Conservative Party in elections, because so many Labour votes are wasted in safe Labour seats.

In addition, FPTP breeds apathy, which leads to lower levels of voter registration and turnout. People who aren't registered to vote, or who don't vote, tend to be young, to live in rented accommodation, and to be less affluent... and these are groups that historically favour the Labour party.

FPTP also favours a right-wing agenda in other, more subtle, ways. Research shows that PR systems tend to produce societies with lower levels of inequality, higher levels of public spending, and a fairer distribution of public goods.

It's not hard to see how this comes about. Although PR systems do produce right-of-centre governments, these governments tend to be broadly-based and to operate with a degree of consensus. Because of this, they find it difficult to launch attacks on the welfare state such as we regularly see from Conservative governments in the UK.

Some people support FPTP because they look forward to the day when the Labour Party wins an overall majority in Parliament on a minority of the vote, and introduces a socialist programme.

The problem here is that with an FPTP system, the Tories will eventually win again - and will dismantle all the gains of the Labour years. Tory governments have sold off council houses built under Labour; they are dismantling the NHS; and their attacks on the welfare state have reversed Labour's reductions in child poverty and seen thousands of families relying on food banks.

Broad-based governments elected under proportional representation could introduce Labour's programme of reforms, most of which is extremely popular with the electorate. And Tory governments, when they eventually come along, would find it difficult to dismantle them.


Postal address: 
334 Mutton Lane, Potters Bar EN6 2AX



Copyright © LCER



Campaigning for Labour to back
proportional representation

Powered by Wild Apricot Membership Software