FPTP – Shooting the Three Foxes (posted Jan 2016)

Argue for electoral reform against an advocate for FPTP and very quickly you’ll be listening to three lines of an old song we’ve heard a hundred times before:

  • FPTP creates decisive government

  • Proportional representation would give us coalitions that are weak and indecisive and…

  • …smaller parties would exert undue influence over larger ones

Electoral reformers often try to take on the answers to the three ‘clichés that never die’ directly. That’s a mistake because the opponent gains a useful advantage – they can draw the discussion away from the central principle we electoral reformers want to address.

So be prepared to shoot the Three FPTP Foxes quickly when they’re let loose. We can begin this by emphasising and repeating the following three-part message each time a media opportunity presents itself:

  • that electoral reformers’ central aim, through a proper proportional voting system, is fair votes for people (or, put another way, votes that count for people)

  • we find that FPTP advocates always prefer to sidestep fair voting and concentrate instead on the behaviour and practice of governments or politicians in power

  • therefore, they wrongly conflate two issues and we can clearly see that their main concern is with government practice and attitude, not with people having fair votes

Even the most experienced media interviewers like to stay in their comfort zone by restricting the focus to these well-known FPTP clichés. Electoral reformer: be aware of the need to get on to territory that works for you, not for them. 5.5.5 & Counting believe that once there, there are several strategic pitches that will open up to much more uncomfortable probing than FPTP advocates usually have to face:

  • What is it about FPTP that you think creates the optimum amount of decisiveness in government, compared say to some of the more benign forms of dictatorship?

  • This level of decisiveness – you claim it is so ideal that it justifies denying the majority of the 46 million people of the electorate a vote that will count?

  • Are you saying that single-party government is never weak? If so, you presumably don’t mind being the opposition party because they’ll be getting things strongly right or strongly wrong. You can’t lose either way.

  • Are you saying that decisiveness is always the right approach to complex or fast-changing political events and issues?

  • Does every country that elects through PR have indecisive, weak governments? Do you know how many major developed nations still use PR? (the answer is three, by the way – UK, USA & Canada).

  • Unhealthy influence can only be exerted successfully when there are others open to being influenced. Shouldn’t the larger party be strong enough to resist or manage the unreasonable demands of a small one?

  • Apparently you don’t trust the biggest party to have the skills to handle small ones but you would trust it with the power to govern us all on its own! Does that sound like a good idea?

These were a few basic suggestions. Whatever points you choose, remember the overall aim is to dispute and undermine the anti-PR myths and clichés that get in the way. The FPTP advocate often escapes without being pressed for evidence to back up those three standard assertions we started with at the top. So exposing the general lack of evidence, the lack of coherence behind the assertions, is the prime objective. Obviously this won’t be achieved on one showing. There must be repeated media presence if arguments are to gain equal or greater traction with audiences. Greater media penetration is indispensable to a successful PR campaign. Though we are not saying it is easy to achieve, it must be said that currently the campaign lacks visible co-ordination.

Go back to the three ‘Fox’ points and consider how you would answer them individually if pressed. For example, ‘I agree the risk of collusion and corruptibility under all forms of elected government should be a matter of concern to us, especially in western democracies where we’re supposed to be beyond all that. Let’s talk about it for a minute…’

Finally, a fourth assertion often cropping up near the outset is that FPTP maintains a uniquely strong link to the constituency member. This is rubbish because the system they have in Germany, say, has a mechanism for doing exactly that. So firmly dismiss it as irrelevant to the cases for and against fair voting for people. Better still, is it possible to confirm the UK electoral reform community has a commitment to a PR system that maintains or even strengthens local member links?

5.5.5 & Counting would like to hear your views and suggestions on this issue. We undertake to publish the most positive, constructive suggestions in a ‘Follow-up Post’ within six weeks.