FPTP’s Two Great Deceptions in the run up to every election
Tory and Labour want an outright majority so at each election, their priority of achieving a ‘winner-take-all’ outcome takes over. To them, playing the electoral system seems more important than any concern for whether democratic election process is being served or not. In or out of power they have not been interested in:
- the depth and validity of their mandate to govern outright
- whether your and my vote gets counted towards the overall outcome in a meaningful way
- parliamentary representation that reflects the growth of support for small and new parties.
A lot of that might be obvious but now we come to two further examples of FPTP’s power of democratic distortion that are not as easy to spot. We call them FPTP’s Two Great Deceptions.
In the weeks before an election hosts of experts, pundits, politicians and presenters push out a familiar mantra in one or another form of words: ‘Get out and vote. Don’t waste your democratic right; influence the outcome; vote with your conscience; it only takes 20 minutes.’
The thing they never make clear is that they are only talking to voters in contested seats.
In the much greater number of safe seats the advice they are giving you is pointless on almost every count. Mostly Labour and Tory, by far, have held the swathes of safe seats lying across England for decades. Under FPTP, cast a vote for any party other than the incumbent and you simply cannot influence the outcome. You might as well have stayed at home. FACT: Voting will take about 20 minutes but other than that, the advice the pundits and the rest are putting out is a complete deception as far as it affects you.
Think about what the media put on your screens when they analyse and debate the election. It centres on three basic factors:
- the quality of the parties’ leaderships with particular focus on the prospective PM
- the parties’ policies or manifesto, compared one against the other
- the skills and qualities local MPs bring to their relationships with their constituents
Now recall that in the FPTP voting booth, you get one ‘X’ to mark in one box and if you attempt anything more, your paper is spoilt. It is clear then that the analysis of these differences only helps you if, as it happens, you conclude all three of them apply to the party of one of the candidates you consider voting for.
But what if they don’t. In your view, Party A might have the best leader, B the better policies and C a really hard working local MP. FPTP will not let you express all that careful analysis you will make and indeed, will be encouraged in the run up to the election to make as if it were possible for you to fully express your preferences.
FPTP turns every voter into a one-shot wonder. It lacks the sophistication to serve a 21C election process in an advanced democracy. Only a system of PR that allows you to make multiple choices or rank two or more candidates can give you that.
If we had such a system, many of which are happily in use across Europe, the Two Great FPTP Deceptions would no longer be relevant. It would be worth going out to vote in every constituency because all votes, including non-winning votes, would have a say in the overall result. Doing all the analysis would have made sense too, because after all that, you do not have to back your once-every-five-year opportunity into a single corner if that’s not what you want.