Baroness Hayter defends First Past the Post

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[First Published on Tuesday 5th April 2011]

This archive item is a window onto issues as they appeared at the time. It contains facts and opinions which may have been superseded by subsequent events.

Ahead of May’s referendum on the Alternative Vote, Labour peer Baroness Hayter argued this week that First Past the Post is the right electoral system for the UK.  Any change would have unknown consequences and a change to AV would obscure the link between people’s votes and the parties in power.

The Benefits of First Past The Post

First Past the Post, she argues, defends the electorate’s right to “get rid” of an unwanted Government and gives people a clear understanding of what parties will offer if elected.  “It is very important when people go to vote that they know who’s likely to be Prime Minister… that they know what that party is likely to offer”.

Fundamental to her support of the current system is Baroness Hayter’s belief in the importance of two-party government in Britain.  A strong opposition is essential to the scrutiny of government decisions and First Past the Post is the best way to provide this, she argued.

The Consequences of the Alternative Vote

The Alternative Vote, instead, is likely to lead to more coalitions withthe splintering of parties, the setting up of new parties, and the birth of single issue parties.  While these may represent important issues at the local level, they should not govern choices for the national government.

The proposed system, she argued, would not address current problems like tactical voting and political disillusionment either; “the idea that AV is going to solve the problem of expenses or anything else like that is the most ludicrous idea”.

A referendum is the right way to decide

Certain in her own conclusions, Baroness Hayter was nonetheless committed to the need for the final say to rest with electorate; “The way we have our elections should be in the hands of the people”, she concluded.

This publication presents the personal views of the author and not those of The Constitution Society, which publishes it as a contribution to debate on this important subject.