English

“It’s First Past The Post wot done it”

The British electoral system is rather useless, but if you believe its proponents this system is keeping a second Hitler from seizing power (yes, really). But as it often happens when it comes to Hitler: as soon as you need him to get your point across, you may as well give up.

For whoever is unfamiliar with the British electoral system: Britain has a ‘First Past The Post’ system, other than in the Netherlands where there is a system of Proportional Representation (in other words: every vote in the Netherlands counts, not every vote counts in the UK). During UK national elections, British voters can vote for the candidate of their choice in one of 650 districts and the candidate who receives the most votes in any district wins the seat. This way, a party can win a large majority of seats in the House of Commons with only a relatively small proportion of the votes. Or you have the bad luck of being a Liberal Democrat, who won over 11% of the votes in the most recent elections but only hold 1.6% of the seats. Ouch.

Proponents of this system argue that this system can keep political extremists away from power. As mentioned earlier: Hitler gained power through proportional representation (as long as we don’t take the voter intimidation by Nazi gangs into account, as well as the subsequent deliberate actions to keep non-Nazi representatives out of the Reichstag after the elections).

I’ll turn the argument around: thanks to this wretched First Past The Post system, Britain has ended up with Brexit.

It all started with the elections of 2015: UKIP, Nigel Farage’s anti-EU party only won 1 seat in the House of Commons, despite winning 12% of the overall votes. Of course, that 1 seat meant absolutely nothing, but the Conservatives were worried about UKIP’s vote share.

UKIP and the Tories fish for the voters in the same, politically Right pond. As national elections are always decided in only a limited amount of constituencies (the so-called ‘marginal seats’, comparable to the ‘battleground states’ in the USA), the Conservatives really couldn’t use any competition in these constituencies. Not that UKIP were even close to standing a chance of winning these seats, but even a relatively small percentage of votes for UKIP could mean the Conservatives would lose vital seats to arch nemesis Labour.

Despite winning a narrow majority in 2015, the Conservatives were discontented. David Cameron thought he could come to his party’s rescue with a bold plan: he would organise a Brexit Referendum and win it; this way UKIP would be rendered irrelevant and the Tories would be good to go for the upcoming national elections which were to be held in 2020.

We all know how this gamble worked out. If the UK were to have had a system like the Dutch one, it would have meant that UKIP would have won 80 seats. They would have been condemned to the occasional shouting from the sidelines (like Geert Wilders and his party have achieved virtually nothing in the Netherlands for years), but they would have been harmless.

Perhaps the next election for the House of Lords can achieve some much needed change. Those should be held any day now, shouldn’t they?

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