(Edited from a post on the Powerswitch forums)
With election time coming up, and with it being a messy one in which many people are hoping or wishing that minor parties might have some chance to influence things in parliament, some people are questioning whether an alternative to the first-past-the-post electoral system (in which people make a single vote for who they want to be the member of Parliament for their local constituency and the person with the most votes wins, then the party which wins the most seats gets to form a government) might have helped those parties do better. UKIP are polling even higher than the Liberal Democrats and yet (perhaps due to a fall in support) are, according to some sources, unlikely to win even some of the seats they were gunning to get, such as Farage’s hopes for South Thanet. As for the Greens, well they’re polling lower, but some want them to have more influence as an alternative to the same old politics which even UKIP isn’t much of an alternative to (if not, in their view, even worse). Perhaps an alternative: AV (rejected by the majority in a referendum as being too confusing), STV or even full-on proportional representation, might help to stop the same old same old ruling the show every time?
But is it really the right way to go?
The reality is that the first past the post system is definitely fit for purpose if we understand how it’s designed to work.
Basically people are so obsessed by the party system they fail to see it’s about voting for the person as well as simply the party. What is really not fit for purpose is that we have no real separation of powers between the legislature and the executive- the latter being made up from whatever sitting MPs lead the party with the most seats or whatever coalition is formed that can gain the confidence of the House (and the Crown). In something more like the American sort of system, where the executive is elected separately from the legislature, only with the difference of having direct election of the head of government rather than the questionable electoral college system that exists Stateside, we would not need to worry about FPTP with respect to electing members of parliament.
Now certainly if we were to maintain this lack of separation of powers, some sort of alternative voting system which still allows us to have a specific local MP who is directly accountable to the electorate in a given locality might be a worthwhile compromise, but a full proportional-representation system would not be something I could support, as it removes that link and does not give us any idea (beyond party leadership) who are the people who will be elected to Parliament.
Thoughts, criticisms, elaborations most welcome.