Thoughts on politics and life from a liberal perspective

Monday, 10 May 2010

What if First Past the Post kept throwing up hung parliaments?

Something James Graham tweeted during election night intrigued me. It was along the lines of "I can't see a second election unravelling this".

I was doing the paper review on 5 Live last night and one of the other guests was Professor Jon Tonge, head of politics at Liverpool University who suggested that another election in 6 months or a year could very well throw up another hung parliament. I agreed with this and suggested that even further, if Labour were starting to recover that we could even see a "doubly hung parliament" with the Lib Dems in a position to be able to form a majority with either Labour or the Conservatives (unlike now where that is only possible with the Conservatives).

Professor Tonge also made the point that were this to happen, it would be the end for First Past the Post. He said that in 1974, it was lucky (or unlucky depending on your point of view) that the second October election resulted in a majority (just) for Harold Wilson's Labour Party.

I think that FPTP is already hanging by a thread anyway. Despite what its proponents say about it producing "strong" government and regular overall majorities it is largely historical accident that has caused that in post-war Britain. The system itself is not guaranteed to do it and with the continuing diminution of the combined vote share for Labour and the Conservatives (now down to less than two-thirds as of last Thursday) and the increase in vote share of other parties I think it is increasingly likely that this will happen. The last three parliaments in Canada for example where First Past the Post is used have led to no overall majority for anyone.

I expect David Cameron will be aware of this possibility and it may well factor in his deliberations as he continues to negotiate with Nick Clegg. He may calculate that a deal to change the system will look statesmanlike and magnanimous whilst simultaneously knowing that something may well have to change quite soon anyway so he really has nothing to lose to be seen as part of that change.

1 comment:

Duncan Stott said...

We know that FPTP frequently produces no absolute majorities from our country's own elections. Local elections in England and Wales use FPTP and frequently produce No Overall Control. (By the way, why aren't we using this term for the House of Commons at the moment, instead of the pejorative "hung parliament"?)