GOVERNMENT AND POLITICS

UNIT 1

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Elections

Manifesto's and Mandates

  • Electoral manifesto is a statement produced by a political party at election times stating what policies it intends to implement if it gains power.
  • Electoral mandate refers to the authority to govern granted by the winning party at an election by voters. The mandate suggests that the government may implement the measures in its election manifesto.
  • The mandate also implies that the government has the authority to use its judgement in dealing with unforeseen circumstances. This is known as the "doctor's mandate".
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Elections

How FPTP works

  • Our electoral system ( a system that converts votes into seats) is first-past-the-post or FPTP.
  • Elections in the UK are not held between fixed terms meaning there is no set time or date when an election has to be held, however it is tradition that they are held on Thursday's.
  • The features of FPTP: each constituency returns one member of Parliament, each party may only nominate one candidate in each constituency, voters have only one vote each, whichever candidate wins the largest number of votes is declared elected. This is known as simple majority or plurality. In 2010, David Cameron won the most number of votes, but needed to win 326 seats to become PM, he achieved 307 meaning there was a hung parliament.
  • The effects have FPTP have favoured the two biggest parties Labour and Conservative. In 2010, the Conservatives won 306 seats from 36.1% of the votes. Labour won 258 seats from 29% of the votes and the Lib Dems 57 seats from 23% of the votes.
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  • So we can see that FPTP converts votes into seats disproportionally. In the 2005 election, the Liberal Democrats averaged the highest votes per seat won with 96,000 proving that it is not proportional.
  • The general effects of FPTP are as follows: there is a strong unique relationship between a single MP and every constituency, the majority of MPs are elected without securing an overall majority of the votes, the system favours the leading party almost guaranteeing that a single party will win an overall majority in the Commons, the system favours those parties that are able to concentrate their votes in specific constituencies, it is difficulty for a third party to break into the two party domination.
  • Votes are not of equal value, they are more valuable in marginal constituencies and votes for very small parties that have virtually no hope of winning any constituencies are virtually completely wasted.
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Elections

2010 General Election Summary

  • Conservatives- 306 seats (36%)
  • Labour-258 seats (29%)
  • Liberal Democrats- 57 seats (23%)
  • RESULT- HUNG PARLIAMENT, no party achieved 326 seats or more.
  • Bad election for Labour who lost 91 seats and Liberal Democrats who lost 5 seats.
  • Good election for Conservatives who gained 97 seats, but were not able to achieve an overall majority.
  • Con-Lib coalition formed where David Cameron is PM and Nick Clegg deputy PM.
  • Green party won their first ever seat, but parties like UKIP and BNP won no seats.
  • Gordon Brown resigned as Labour leader and PM, but still remains MP for his constituency. Front runners for Labour leadership include David Milliband and Ed Balls.
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Elections

Majority Systems

  • The only majority system used in Britain is the one used for the London Mayoral elections, which is supplementary vote.
  • Each voter has two votes, a first and a second choice. If one candidate secures over 50% of the vote on first preferences alone they will be elected. If no candidate achieves this first time round, the top two go through to a second round.
  • In this second round, the second preference votes on all the losing candidates are added to the top two candidates. One of them must obtain a majority over the other.
  • The second ballot electoral system is used in France.
  • The alternative vote system is used in Australian elections.
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Elections

Plurality sytems

  • An electoral system where the winning candidate does not require an overall majority but merely needs to win more votes than the other candidate.
  • In the UK, are electoral system at general election is FPTP, which is a plurality system.
  • A plurality system is also used in the USA for both the Senate and the House of Representatives.

Proportional Representation

  • Proportional representation is an electoral system that converts votes into seats in a proportional way.
  • There are many PR electoral systems used in Britain including regional list, single transferable vote and additional member system.


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Elections

  • Single Transferable Vote or STV is used in local and Assembly elections in Northern Ireland.
  • Constituencies return more than one member each.In order to be elected, the candidate must achieve a certain quota which is, the total votes cast divided by the number of seats plus one.
  • Voters may vote for all the candidates in order of preference but don't need to.
  • They may vote for candidates from different parties. Candidates who achieve the quota on their first preference are elected, when that happens their second preferences are redistributed among the other candidates.
  • When more candidates achieve the quota, their spare votes are also redistributed. This continues until no more candidates can achieve the quota. At this point the candidates at the bottom of the poll, have their preferences re distributed.
  • When the required number of candidates have achieved the quota, the counting can end.
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  • The UK operates on a close regional list system to elect members of the European Parliament.
  • The country is divided into regions, in each region the parties produce a list of candidates. The voters are invited to vote for one of the lists.
  • Seats are awarded to each party in exact proportion to the votes cast.
  • If a party wins, lets say 40% of the total votes, the top 40% of its candidates on the list are elected.
  • In the UK's case a small adjustment is made depending on the performance of parties at the previous election.
  • As it is a closed regional list system, voters have no influence over individuals are elected off the list. The order of the list is determined by party leaderships.
  • The additional member system is also used in the UK. It is used in Welsh and Scottish assembly elections.
  • AMS is a hybrid or mixed system, meaning it is a combination of FPTP and the regional list system. A proportion of the seats is awarded through FPTP and the rest through regional list, meaning every voter has two votes.
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Elections

  • One vote is for the constituency and the other is from a choice of party lists. Therefore, some of the elected representatives have a constituency to look after and some do not.
  • In Wales and Scotland, two thirds of the seats are elected using FPTP. The other third is elected through closed regional list.
  • However, in the regional list part of the system the variable top up system is used to assist parties which do not gain many seats from the result like the Conservatives, making the system more proportional.
  • AV plus is not an electoral system used in the UK, but has been recommended by certain electoral reform supporters. It is the same as AMS but instead of using FPTP for constituency MPs they use Alternative vote.
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Effects and comparisons of different electoral systems

  • STV in Northern Ireland is clearly a very representative system. The voters have been given a wide choice and all their preferences have been taken into account.
  • In 2007, the overall result was even between the four main parties, DUP, UUP and the SDLP and Sinn Fein. The results were extremely proportional as well with 36 seats won by the DUP from 30% of the vote. Likewise for Sinn Fein, with 28 seats won from 26% of the vote.
  • STV would be good for those who want representation but bad for those who seek a strong government.
  • STV is also a complicated system for the public and is a slow system, it can take several days to find out the result.
  • In AMS, if it had purely been done on FPTP Labour would have a narrow majority with 37 seats. However, with the regional list votes Labour didn't even have the most seats losing out to the SNP on 47 seats. The Conservatives benefited greatly to from AMS boosting their total from 4 to 18 seats.
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Elections

  • The overall votes were extremely proportional to votes cast in the Conservatives and Lib Dems case. It was also fairly proportional with Labour and the SNP.

The Problem with FPTP

  • There are many problems with FPTP, firstly the governments are being elected on a minority of votes cast in a general election. In recent years the problem has worsened with the 2010 General election resulting in a hung parliament where the Conservatives have the most seats, despite only winning 36% of the vote.
  • Governments are claiming a mandate on a minority of the result calls into question the democratic legitimacy of a government.
  • House of Commons does not represent the range of political opinion e.g UKIP and Greens.
  • Too many votes are wasted on smaller parties like the BNP and Independent.
  • Voters are given a narrow choice as only have one vote.
  • Voters are forced to vote tactically because of a two party system.
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Arguments for and against reform

  • Arguments for reform: voters given more choices, value of vote would be equalised, STV would given voters the choice between candidates of the same party, AV or AV+ would result in a more representative result.
  • Force co operation between parties and more consensual politics, rather than adversarial, restores respect of the political system, policial system would become more dynamic and more in lines with the rest of the democratic world.
  • Arguments against reform: FPTP has successfully delivered a decisive, strong government with comfortable majorities for the last sixty years, delivers government which has a clear mandate to govern based on its manifesto.
  • Electoral reform would mean no overall majority is likely to be won resulting in coalition governments which are usually unstable, and the UK is naturally a two party system and maintains the tradition of our Parliament.
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