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April 27, 2010




I think you're Rawlsian argument for FPTP is actually a very good one, if you factor in enduring low turnout as a measure of social injustice done to people in a particular community. I've often thought about putting that argument on paper but as often you out-concised me.

One point of clarity though on my own piece: I am not defending FPTP. I think a system which makes more votes count for more while retaining the validity of the MP-constituency link is a good idea.

All I'm defending is the Labour party's right to use its resources to best effect under the current system without being called for cheating.


Check out:
TORBEN IVERSEN and DAVID SOSKICE, 'Electoral Institutions and the Politics of Coalitions: Why Some Democracies Redistribute More Than Others' American Political Science Review (2006),

Theory and evidence the PR systems tend to produce centre-left govts, with greater redistribution, and FPTP systems tend to produce centre-right govts with less redistribution - roughly it's easier for middle-class to form reliable alliances to redistribute from the rich under PR with the danger that FPTP systems might lead to poor redistributing from the middle class


In addtion, what you describe as the Lib Dems' "geographic misfortune" could also be described as the legacy of the strength of the labour movement in establising core voting area in the first place. That didn't have to happen. The Labour movement made it happen.

Evan Price

There's also the problem that we elect constituency representatives to our Parliament - and there are 646 individual races rather than a race for Prime Minister - and the FPTP system is reflective of our parliamentary and representative democracy in a way that, for example, top up seats allocated on a proportional system would not be.

If we ended up with a list system for multi-member constituencies, anomalies and unfairness would follow - see the problems with the d'Hondt system for the EU Parliament last year.

As for alternative or single transferable voting systems - why should someone's second choice for the representative, trump another's first choice - so that each representative has, in some forced way, more than 50% of the constituency vote?

No system is going to be 'fair' - and arguably 'fairness' is subjective in any event.

Chris Hanretty

I'm not sure what the argument here.
1) Worst-off voters (worst-off on the basis of primary goods?) are geographically concentrated;
2) voting systems ought to favour the worst-off;
3) FPTP favours geographically concentrated interests (and the interests of the worst-off stem directly from their position);
therefore FPTP is desirable?

But 1) is an empirical premise (which seems true on the face of it), 3) involves an empirical premise about interests and preferences which seems false on the face of it, and most importantly, who-one ever suggested that electoral systems were mechanisms of redistribution instead of mechanisms of preference aggregation (premise 2)?


The geographical skew is important, as is the fact that Labour constituencies tend to be a bit smaller (which obviously can be remedied). But turnout in each constituency is a major issuer.

Imagine Labour win a majority of 326 seats, but in their seats turnout is only 20, with Labour taking 15 votes and the other 5 candidates voting for themselves. Then assume Labour don't get any votes in the rest of the country where turnout is 50%, or about 12m people.

We would have Labour on 326 seats, the opposition parties on 324 seats. But Labour's vote would be about 6,500, compared to 12m for the other parties, so Labour would get 51% of the seats, on 0.0005% of the vote. And that's nothing really to do with any bias that can be corrected.


"The fact that Labour constituencies tend to be a bit smaller"

You are saying that the Electoral Commission is Rubbish at its job?

Another reason could be the net outflow of people over time from the cities. There is a time period between boundary revisions during which this outflow takes place.

Paul Sagar

I'm afraid that the Manchester United analogy is also a very bad one, as the Premiership is not an equal-opportunity meritocracy but a rampant plutocracy:



Matthew - your example is very good.

I tend to give the 50%+1 version when I am trying to debunk the duff statistic sometimes referred to as the Vote share/seat share ratio - where a party in two horse races could have 100% of the seats on barely 50% of the vote.

But I like your example even better. Well done!

Eoghan O'Neill

"The injustice done by FPTP to Lib Dems actually increases overall justice.
FPTP gives more weight than would a “fair” voting system to the votes of the worst-off, as these are geographically concentrated. But this extra weighting merely offsets the injustices the worst-off suffer in other ways."

Thrasymachus would have been proud of you.


Are worse-off voters really geographically concentrated?

Igor Belanov

I'm not in favour of the FPTP system, but I could back Paul's argument by stating that as Labour have a lot of very safe seats in predominantly working-class areas, many potential Labour voters stay at home because there's little point in voting. The Lib Dems are generally in a position where their supporters' votes count more.

Alex G

"The objections to it are that the Labour party has been a poor defender of the interests of the worst off, and that FPTP doesn’t just give a bias towards working class votes, but also towards Tory ones which are also geographically concentrated."

No, the objection would be that it's supposed to be one man, one vote. You don't get extra credit for being poor any more than you should for being rich.

If the poor are disadvantaged in a number of ways, it's legitimate to address these more or less directly (e.g. increasing their access to political education, supporting community activism, preventing corruption of politicians by the wealthy) but absolutely not on to deliberately distort the political system in their favour.

John S

All I know is that for 40 years I have lived in constituencies where my vote did nothing more than save a deposit. I have never cast a vote for a winning candidate. Is that fair?
It doesn't matter whether you are a Labour voter in a Tory seat or vice versa or a Lib Dem in most of the country - not to mention Greens or UKIP voters.
FPTP is simply Buggins Turn whatever the justificationis produced!

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