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Why I Love First Past the Post

The British electoral system – a perfect fit for people and parliament

 

Start at the point the river Dyfi gives way to sand and grass-covered dunes. Work your way up the coast to Harlech, where Edward I’s foreboding castle speaks of a bloody past. Turn north and inland to find Blaenau Ffestiniog, whose slate-grey hillsides bear witness to both industrial strength and industrial decline. All along the way, pass by mountains and valleys, through towns and villages, tiny hamlets and remote farms where the Welsh language still holds its own.

This is the constituency of Meirionydd Nant Conwy, where I was born and raised, and no more splendid place will you find on the entire planet.

Some families here can trace their roots back the best part of a millennium. Some may only have arrived a few weeks ago. But all are linked by the history, the geography, the culture and the mundane day-to-day economic life of this beautiful corner of Wales.

Remote it may be, but Meirionydd Nant Conwy plays a full role in the way Britain is governed. Every four or five years its residents come together to choose one person to represent them in distant Westminster and to represent distant Westminster back to them. The process of choosing this representative is straightforward: any number of individuals can put themselves forward and, having paid a deposit, seek to persuade their fellow citizens to elect them.

Votes are cast and the individual with the greatest number wins. It’s simple, utterly transparent and, yes, in its own way rather beautiful. Every vote counts equally. No vote is wasted. The winner represents all the residents at Westminster. No one is disenfranchised.

The same process is repeated the length and breadth of the United Kingdom. From diverse inner-cities through wealthy Home-County villages and struggling ex-mining towns all the way to the Scottish islands, different communities reflect their own interests, their own traditions, their own unique complexions. Sometimes, a constituency’s concerns may mirror those of many others and a member of one of the major parties will be elected. Sometimes, as in Merionydd Nant Conwy, more distinct elements come into play and a smaller party wins through. Other times, it may be a particularly local issue that results in an independent being sent to parliament. Each constituency decides. Based on place and and based on community. Something everyone, wherever they are on the political spectrum, should cherish.

Each Member of Parliament elected this way has exactly the same relationship with their constituency. All are directly elected by the single place they serve. When the British elect their parliament, they do not do it as one amorphous national entity, but as local people that are part of local communities.

That is why the Greens, notwithstanding their millions of votes up and down the country, deserve precisely the one seat they hold. Caroline Lucas built up her base in Brighton Pavillion and that community supported her. The Greens failed to repeat her feat elsewhere. The same goes for UKIP and Douglas Carswell.

Similarly, the dominant position of the Scottish National Party north of the border is entirely merited. The other parties, if they cannot reconnect with localities throughout Scotland, deserve no more than their current three seats.

No amount of opaque party lists, of wrangling as to where each candidate should be on a hierarchy of preferences, of Members of Parliament jointly representing areas so vast they might as well represent no one at all – none of that holds any attraction for me. None of it comes close to the democratic simplicity of our current system.

I am an unashamed supporter of First Past the Post. Not because it produces strong government, not because it makes it difficult for extreme parties to break through, although it does do both those things.

I love First Past the Post because it is the best way to represent in parliamentary form the complex and wonderful reality of British communities the length and breadth of these islands. It is clear, it is democratic, it is well nigh perfect. Long may it last.

This article was originally published on Dafydd Foster Evans blog. He tweets as @DFosterEvans 

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