Source Question: Electoral Reform

Using the source, evaluate the extent to which it is now essential that the UK introduces a proportional system for general elections. 30 Marks

There are a number of features of recent general elections that point to the need for a different electoral system for the UK. The 2015 general election was a case in point. UKIP won nearly 4 million votes and yet this translated into just one seat. In Scotland, conversely, the Scottish National Party won 50% of the popular vote and yet won 56 out of the 59 seats available. When we add to that the fact that the Conservative government won only 36.9% of the popular vote in the UK but was rewarded with a 12-seat majority, we must seriously question the way the system works.

This kind of bias has, of course, been known for many years, so why the urgency for a decision today? There are a number of reasons, but the outcome of the three elections in 2010, 2015 and 2017 gave the argument fresh impetus. In 2010, the system produced a hung parliament, in 2015 the Conservatives only just scraped home with a majority of 12 seats, and then came 2017. In the 2017 general election campaign, prime minister May placed great emphasis on the need for ‘strong and stable’ government. She was referring to the negotiations for the UK’s exit from the EU, but she could have been referring to the debate about the electoral system. First-past-the-post used to produce such governments and it was fully expected that it would do so again.

The result was a huge surprise. Once again first-past-the-post failed in its first function — that of producing a majority government. With three consecutive indecisive results behind them, even Conservatives began to lose faith in the electoral system.

Liberals, meanwhile, look to the interests of individual voters. Wasted votes and votes of unequal value are a matter of increasing concern. With proportional representation, votes are rarely wasted and most votes count. Depending on which system is introduced, it could also be that voters would have more choice.

In your response you must:

● compare the different opinions in the source

● consider this view and the alternative to this view in a balanced way

● use knowledge and understanding to help you analyse and evaluate.

Answer Notes

The source refers to the following arguments in favour of introducing proportional representation in the UK:

· FPTP discriminates against small parties, such as UKIP in 2015.

· Under FPTP governments are elected on a minority of the popular vote, sometimes a small minority.

· Parties with concentrated support can win a disproportionately large number of seats under FPTP, as occurred with the SNP in 2015.

· The failure of FPTP to produce governments with a decisive majority in 2010, 2015 and 2017 suggests the system is outdated and no longer produces strong and stable government and so could be replaced.

FPTP also creates many wasted votes and votes of unequal value as there is a difference between votes in safe seats and votes in marginal seats. PR would eliminate much of this problem.

Additional arguments in favour of PR that could be deployed include:

· PR would help smaller parties to gain a foothold in the system.

· With pure PR, every vote counts.

· PR might improve public acceptance of the outcome and increase engagement with politics.

· PR systems such as STV and AMS give voters more choice.

Arguments that it is not essential to introduce PR in the UK include the following:

· The failure of FPTP to produce strong governments with a decent majority may be only temporary.

The public showed no appetite for electoral reform in the 2011 AV referendum

· There is a body of opinion that says we should avoid increasing the possibility of having coalition or minority governments which would be inevitable if PR were used for general elections.

· The current system usually produces governments with a clear mandate. Coalition governments lack such a clear mandate.

If PR were used, there is a danger that too many small parties would gain parliamentary representation and so destabilise the parliamentary system.