What is First Past the Post? (FPTP)

FPTP is the electoral system used to elect MPs to the House of Commons.  FPTP is a plurality electoral system in which the winning candidate only needs one vote more than their leading opponent in order to win their seat.

The winning candidate does not need to achieve a majority of votes (50%+1) in their constituency. For example in 2010, Labour candidate Glenda Jackson won her seat in Hampstead and Kilburn with only 32.8% of the vote.

If one party is able win at least 50% of the seats in the House of Commons (326 out of a total 650) then its leader gets to become prime minister and form a government.

How do I vote under FPTP?

Each political party selects one candidate to stand on their behalf, alongside independent candidates (those without parties). In order to vote, on the ballot paper you need to put a cross (‘X’) inside the box next to the name of the candidate or party that you wish to vote for. You can only vote for one candidate under FPTP. You then fold your paper in half and place it inside a box that’s marked for completed ballots and you’re done!

FPTP is conducted using a secret ballot,  which maintains the anonymity of the vote enabling people to freely vote who they wish for without ridicule or embarrassment.

This fantastic video from Parliament.uk gives a quick explanation about how the election works!


Winner’s bonus
A winner’s bonus occurs when FPTP exaggerates the amount of support that the most popular party received. A winner’s bonus can make a minor lead in the percentage of votes turn into a large lead in terms of seats therefore strengthening the legitimacy of the majority party.

Usually produces a strong majority government.
Due to the winner’s bonus effect, FPTP usually produces a single-party majority government who therefore don’t need much support from other parties in order to pass its proposed legislation.
However the 2010 General Election led to a hung parliament where no single party had a majority of votes but this can be attributed to a variety of factors including but not limited to: low turnout and the rise of a third party (the Liberal Democrats).
There have only been two occasions since 1929 which have produced a hung parliament: February 1974 and in 2010.

Accountable representatives
As there is only one MP per constituent, constituents know who to hold accountable for their representation in the House of Commons.

FPTP is a simple method of voting that takes seconds to vote and an easy way of tallying up the votes. The method of counting votes is also quicker than other systems that use a formula e.g. for European Parliamentary elections, the UK uses the d’Hondt formula which takes considerably more time than FPTP to tally up the results.


Winner’s bonus
Winners bonus disadvantages minor parties as they are denied seats that they would have gained in a proportional system. In 2010, the Liberal Democrats won 23% of the vote but only received 8.8% of the seats (57 out of 650). It is therefore disproportionate.

Under-represents minor parties
Support for minor parties tend to be thinly spread with no real concentration, this means that they are less likely to be victorious.

Questions legitimacy
A party doesn’t have to receive a majority of votes in order for them to win, which poses the question whether or not it has the right to govern.

Can encourage apathy and low turnout
As you need strong concentrated support in order to elect a winning candidate under FPTP, voters who live in safe seats (constituencies which usually elect MPs from the same party every election) are arguably less likely to vote if they wish to vote for another party.

Limited choice
As FPTP requires concentrated and broad support, it usually produces a two-party system in which each party take turns over enjoying a majority of votes and governance. This limited vote also encourages tactical voting, in which a voter votes for another party (usually one of the main parties in the two-party system) in order to defeat the voter’s unfavoured candidate who may still win.


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