First-past-the-post system can abet extreme politics: UK thinktank

The first-past-the-post electoral system used in the United Kingdom, India and elsewhere is broken and can even abet extreme politics instead of ensuring such elements are kept away in favour of moderate, consensual politics, according to a key report released Tuesday.
The report by the London-based non-party, educational foundation Constitution Society points out several drawbacks in the FPTP system, and cites the example of President Donald Trump’s election in the United States as an example of it being outdated.(Bloomberg file photo)
The report by the London-based non-party, educational foundation Constitution Society points out several drawbacks in the FPTP system, and cites the example of President Donald Trump’s election in the United States as an example of it being outdated.(Bloomberg file photo)
Updated on Apr 23, 2019 10:20 PM IST
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Hindustan Times, London | By

The first-past-the-post electoral system used in the United Kingdom, India and elsewhere is broken and can even abet extreme politics instead of ensuring such elements are kept away in favour of moderate, consensual politics, according to a key report released Tuesday.

The report by the London-based non-party, educational foundation Constitution Society points out several drawbacks in the FPTP system, and cites the example of President Donald Trump’s election in the United States as an example of it being outdated.

“FPTP can even abet extreme politics, since should a radical faction gain control of one of the major political parties, FPTP works to preserve that party’s position”, the report by David Klemperer focussing mainly on the working of the system in the UK says.

“This is because the psychological effect of the plurality system disincentivises a major party’s supporters from voting for a minor party in protest at its policies, since to do so would likely only help the major party’s main rival”, it adds.

Rather than curtailing extreme voices, FPTP today empowers the (relatively) extreme voices of the Labour and Conservative Party memberships, the report says, adding that a ‘particularly striking’ example of extremes being empowered by FPTP has occurred the United States.

“There, a combination of a highly institutionalized two-party system, a primary system that severely constricts the power of party elites in the selection of candidates, and a majoritarian electoral system, allowed Donald Trump, an extremist candidate with minority support, to be elected President”.

“This is exactly the kind of result FPTP supposedly prevents, and demonstrates that it is in truth no defence against the extremes”, Klemperer writes.

According to the 44-page analysis, FPTP no longer delivers its claimed benefits because it no longer delivers single-party majority governments; it does little to encourage political moderation; it increases, rather than minimises, political differences between regions; and it obstructs, rather than enhances, accountability and the clarity of voter choice.

Examining various options in place of the FPTP system, the report says any replacement would need to consider whether majoritarian politics is desirable or should proportionality be preferred. The author, however, is not hopeful that electoral reform would come about anytime soon.

“The most fundamental obstacle to electoral reform is the fact that individual MPs, who hold the

ultimate power of decision over which electoral system is used, are by definition beneficiaries of

the current system”.

“Likewise, any party holding a parliamentary majority in the UK is almost certainly a party disproportionately rewarded by FPTP. The achievement of electoral reform in the UK would therefore require politicians to act against both their personal and partisan interests”, Klemperer writes.

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  • ABOUT THE AUTHOR

    Prasun Sonwalkar was Editor (UK & Europe), Hindustan Times. During more than three decades, he held senior positions on the Desk, besides reporting from India’s north-east and other states, including a decade covering politics from New Delhi. He has been reporting from UK and Europe since 1999.

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