The country is divided into “constituencies”.
Each constituency elects a single representative, or MP. (Edit, as pointed out below): they do this by voting on the candidates, and the candidate with the most votes wins. The winner doesn’t need a majority of votes, they just need more votes than anyone else.
Most MPs represent a party (although independent candidates are allowed to stand, and occasionally win). The party with more than 50% of MPs gets to form the government.
If no party has more than 50% of MPs, the party with the most MPs gets to try to form a government by going into coalition with other parties, so that the parties in the coalition have more than 50% of the MPs between them.
First of all, it’s debatably a poor system. It suits the 2 bigger parties (Conservative and Labour) that win, and hinders the smaller parties that don’t, so makes it almost impossible to get the voting system changed as those parties in power vote against the change. Bare this in mind, will explain more later.
There are 650 ‘seats’ in the UK elections, literally meaning the number of seats up for grabs in the Houses of Parliament. So, there are 650 areas of the UK that vote for an individual to be their area’s MP (Member of Parliament). The individual with the most votes wins. That individual can stand as a representative of a specific party (Conservative, Labour, Lib Dem, Green, UKIP, SNP, DUP, Monster Raving Looney Party, etc.) or run as an independent. For example, the MP for Birmingham Yardley is Labour’s Jess Phillips as she received the most votes of all the candidates standing for election in that area, called a constituency. She therefore takes 1 seat in the Houses of Parliament.
The process of separate constituencies voting for an individual to represent their area happens 650 times across the country during 1 election day, typically in May, once every 5 years. For 1 party to win outright, they must win 50% of the seats +1 (326, this figure being the ‘post’ in the first past the post phrase). This gives them a majority and can govern alone, as happened in 2015 when the Conservatives won. However, if a party doesn’t get 50% of seats, as in 2010, the party with the most seats has the opportunity to form a government with another party. This is not necessarily with the next most voted party. The top 2 are usually Labour and Conservative, Labour being much more left wing, Conservative much further right, making a coalition here effectively impossible.
For there to be a more effective working relationship between parties, the party with the most seats try to combine their total of seats with a smaller parties total of seats to then make the magic 326 seat figure. In 2010, the Conservatives combined their 306 seats with the Lib Dems 57 seats, creating a majority, and they worked together for the next 5 years.
Now, the reason the system is deemed unfair is that it disproportionately awards a high number of seats to the big parties in relation to number of votes and a disproportionally low number of seats to smaller parties. For example, the Conservatives got 330 seats from 11,000,000 votes in 2015. Whereas UKIP got 1 seat from 3,800,000 votes. This happens because the smaller parties can get a consistently solid number of votes across the country, but very rarely enough to come 1st in any given constituency. It can also be seen as unfair if a smaller party is very prevalent in a highly specific area, for example the SNP in Scotland (who only stand in Scotland and not the rest of the UK) got 59 seats from 1,500,000 votes.
It’s also called simple plurality. Basically whoever gets the most votes in the contest wins 100% of the win. So if there are 10 votes and A gets 3, B gets 4, C gets 1 and D gets 2 then B wins with 40% of the vote, not a majority but a plurality.
It’s a very common form of democratic contest, also used in most US states for the electoral college votes (but not all) and pretty much all other US elections. It’s more common in the older Anglo nations, less common in nations with newer constitutions because it’s kinda shit and obsolete because it produces a lot of really dysfunctional behaviour like spoilers, tactical voting and gerrymandering.
In the UK we have constituency FPTP which means that the overall contest is made up of hundreds of small FPTP contests for individual seats, rather than it just being a nationwide vote and whoever wins that wins 100% of the power. So whoever wins a constituency wins 100% of that constituency but whoever gets a plurality of votes nationally does not win 100% of the nation. Similar to the US Houses in that regard.
This is worth watching
I guess I’ll add the corrollary: what is the “post” in this system? If it’s just plurality voting, then it sounds like you don’t have to get past any particular amount. So what’s the “post”?
It’s the system used in the US house of representatives effectively if that helps.
But yes, other posters are correct, it’s a division of the electorate into areas, called constituencies in the UK, and a series of candidates run in each area. The one with the most votes (even if it’s only 20% of those who voted) wins, and represents that area in parliament.
It’s the system of the entire electoral process in the US. From the house, to the Senate, to the president.
It simply means, the person with the most votes wins regardless of if they get a majority or not.
Well yes, but the house of representatives electoral system is almost identical (large number of seats, one seat per voting area etc, voting areas kinda correlated to pop sizes) whereas the senate/presidential systems have some variances (2 senators per state, state weighted areas rather than pop weighted areas)
Wrong, the president needs a majority of the electoral votes. Otherwise the House of Representatives decides.
Each state’s electoral votes (except Nebraska and Maine I believe) use First Past the Post to determine that state’s winner. So the national election is done by electors, but on an individual state basis, yes, it is first past the post.
Even NE and ME use FPP, but apply it over their Congressional districts for all but two of their electoral votes.
What happens if say 5% of electors vote for a third party and the remainder is split 48/47 ?
I know it is unlikely for a third party to get anywhere but isn’t it theroetically possible?
And every single elector votes based on the winner of their state’s popular vote. Of which every state uses first passed the post.
“It’s the system used in the US house of representatives effectively if that helps.”
Absolutely. Although it’s probably worth mentioning that the Prime Minister and cabinet are drawn from the representatives rather than being a separate branch of government. The prime minister is the representative of a local constituency as well as PM.
Not in Britain, but this CPG Grey video is an outstanding explanation
I know this may be a tad controversial, but I quite like the system we have, as there is an MP who represents your area in terms of national issues, and who you can go directly to.
Proportional representation is good, but by it’s very nature it dilutes the ability of the electorate to have direct representation. However this is somewhat alleviated by the council system, at least in regard to local issues.
It’s certainly not perfect by any means, but I don’t think any system is.
It’s also worth mentioning that the votes are actually made on paper, collected up and counted. The polling stations all close at the same time, although most will have ballot boxes returned to ‘HQ’, where ever that is for the election, throughout the day and stacked ready. Then there is a competition between some of the Returning Officers (literally, they ‘return’ the vote result) to be the first to get their votes counted and to announce the result. I say some because some areas don’t want to race! There can be recounts if the count is close.
There are elections every year in most places because local Council members tend to be replaced in ‘thirds” over a three year cycle as well as the General Election (for Parliament) and European Elections, plus County Council elections in some places.
I worked in an area where a Council member election was tied and it was decided on the flip of a coin.
The UK is divided into districts, or ‘constituencies’. During a General Election, each constituency (650 of them) elects an MP, or Member of Parliament. The MP is usually from one of the 3 major parties (Conservative (right wing) Labour (left wing) and Liberal Democrat (centrist), but sometimes they come from a smaller party like UKIP (far-right) or the Green Party (environmentalist). In Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland you have special nationalist parties that usually want independence or devolution such as Plaid Cymru (Welsh independence), the Scottish National Party (Scottish independence), the DUP (keep NI in the UK) and Sinn Fein (have NI join Ireland, and their MPs don’t sit at Westminster).
If a party can get a majority of MPs (over 325 out of 650) then they get to form a government. If no party has over 325 MPs then all the parties have a mad scramble to try and get other parties to form a ‘coalition government’ – for example, in 2010 the Conservatives didn’t get enough MPs to form a government so they asked the Liberal Democrats (who had about 50 MPs) to help them form a government, which they did, and for 5 years we were ruled by this ‘coalition’.
In practice it’s a really unfair system for smaller parties because of the constituency system – at the last election, UKIP got 4 million votes but only 2 MPs, whereas the Liberal Democrats got 2 million votes but 8 MP. It makes some people’s votes worth far more than others, like the electoral college system in the US
It’s not too dissimilar to the electoral college system. The country is broken down into zones. Each zone votes for a representative for them in parliament. Those representatives belong to a party.
The first party to win enough zones and get enough representatives to form a majority in parliament wins. If nobody gets a majority, the party with the most representatives can attempt to form a coalition government. If nobody will work with them, the runners up get a go, etc…
Say there are 10 zones with the same number of people in each, 1,000,000. If one party wins 9 zones by a tiny majority, lets say that in each zone, 51% of the people voted for a representative from party A, whilst 49% voted for somebody in party B. However in the 10th zone, 99% voted for party B…
Party A wins 9 zones, gets a massive majority of representatives and is well past the post. They get to form the next government.
The 49% of people in those 9 zones, plus the 99% of people from the 10th zone that voted for party B, add up to 5,400,000. More people actually voted for party B.
In reality, there are more zones (constituencies), each one covers a different sized population, and there are more than two parties that voted get to chose between. Each party might not have a candidate in EVERY constituency. We end up with a government that a majority didn’t actually want or vote for.
Why just Britons? The US and many other “democratic” countries use the same system.
Historically, Member’s of Parliament were elected for an area (a town of county) and the MP was supposed to represent the interests of that area.
It was decided that the best way of deciding who should be the MP would be to have all the eligible (which would have differed greatly from who can vote now) voters vote, and the person with the most would be declared the winner. It is a very simple system to understand.
There is no post involved. You don’t need to have the majority of votes to win. You can be the most unpopular candidate, but still win.
These oddities mean it probably wouldn’t be what would be chosen now for a voting system, and the bodies in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland (and European elections) have moved away from it.
Plurality wins. If 20 people are running and candidate A receives 7% of the vote, more than anyone else, then candidate A wins. No majority needed, no runoffs, etc.
This is the same system That we have in Canada. It works
Edit: I guess I should explain. The easy version is, most votes wins. That’s it. BUT, depending on how many seats you get in the house, which is determined by the number of areas the party had a winning candidate in.
If you have less than 50% of the total votes, but are still the winner because everyone else got less votes than you, then you become a “Minority” Government, which means the opposition (the people who got #2 amount of votes) can make your lives a living hell and they have the right to call a vote of non-confidence against you if they think your party is not doing the right thing. That triggers another election. A Majority government means they got more than 50% of the votes and got the most votes total. They don’t have this risk and just get their 4 year term.
Or Canadians? But yeah it’s all the same