First-past-the-post: A system for radicals

3 Jun 2017

It is a fashionable pastime to rail against our electoral system; to attack it as an anachronism, to denounce it as a force for conservatism, and an enemy to change. But once harnessed it can be precisely the opposite. It can be the greatest democratic weapon any radical can hope to have for achieving the swift and dramatic change they seek.


First-past-the-post is a system that that leans toward producing single party majority government and, despite the recent hung parliament of 2010, a single party majority is still the most likely outcome of any British general election. This allows the winning party, unlike in many other countries round the world with more proportional systems, to govern on its own without having to rely on the support of smaller parties to prop it up. In such a situation, common in mainland Europe, the largest party can be left effectively hamstrung by the disproportionate power of smaller coalition partners to veto government policy. Under the likely outcome of first-past-the-post on the other hand, a single party majority government is able to actually deliver the programme upon which it was elected and avoid the long process of tempering promises and diluting guarantees that is necessitated by the creatures of compromise which are coalitions.


First-past-the-post should therefore be the system for radicals. Unlike those systems which seldom, if ever, enable a single party to form a government without doing deals with others, first-past-the-post allows for radical change to take place. The kind of change that would never be possible if compromising with ideological and political opponents for their support was a necessity for staying in power. It is first-past-the-post that makes it a realistic possibility that however radical the programme put forward by the Opposition is, it could only be a general election away from being realised in its entirety.


Those who say that in practise no radical programme could ever win in the British system need only look to history. The governments of Attlee, Wilson, Thatcher and Blair implemented programmes of such sweeping change that Britain was left totally transformed from what it had been before they took office. Such change on such a scale and at such a speed would be impossible without first-past-the-post.


Yes, to win is not easy, but past victories and past achievements show that a radical position is not a position condemned to inevitable defeat. First-past-the-post is not the enemy of radical change, it is the greatest vehicle for the realisation of that change that a democracy can supply.  




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