Elections and making every vote count

Sir, – Kevin O'Sullivan (Letters, January 22nd) seeks to refute the frequent and justified criticism of the first-past-the-post system made by myself and others on these pages by putting the equally well-rehearsed case that the system has "ensured that extremist radical parties have not achieved a foothold in Westminster", and thus the UK Independence Party (Ukip) performs poorly in Westminster elections and is successful in European Parliament elections.

While this is true, there a number of reasons why this fact does not really recommend the system.

The first is that European Parliament elections are “second-order” elections that receive less attention, interest and turnout and the fact that they relate to the most important issue for Ukip and its members, membership of the EU, and therefore these elections are only imperfectly comparable with Westminster elections. Ukip’s support in European elections may be inflated, in part, for reasons other than the electoral system.

The second is that while I share the selfish delight of Mr O’Sullivan that a party whose views I oppose performs poorly in elections, that does not necessarily make the system fair. The first-past-the-post system also thwarts almost all small parties, not only extremists. Indeed that most centrist of parties, the Liberal Democrats, also suffers under that system. Also, insofar as the system is a bulwark against extremism, it is imperfect, as regionally concentrated extremist parties could perform very well under it.


Finally, approximately one in eight voters in the UK favoured Ukip in the 2015 general election and the party won a single seat out of 650. Does Mr O’Sullivan think that those voters and their admittedly repellent views disappear just because the electoral system systematically reduces their representation?

Does it not add credence to their narrative that the establishment has stacked the odds against them? – Yours, etc,




Dublin 15.

Sir, – Kevin O’Sullivan writes that “the ‘first past the post’ system has consistently ensured that extremist radical parties have not achieved a foothold in Westminster”. By eliminating smaller parties, it is assumed that the bigger parties will fight in the middle ground. Looking across the Atlantic, we see that – instead – they may fight from the extremes.

I have voted in a “first past the post” system. It forces tactical voting against one party, instead of for another party. The voter has to identify the party that is likely to defeat the one disliked. Any additional party acts as a spoiler and splits the vote.

Under the Irish system, I can vote according to my honest preferences, without wasting my vote. The political class can see citizens’ preferences, undistorted by tactical voting, and there are no surprises.

When opinions are not represented, a new party can enter politics and grow its vote, without having to fight Goliath. – Yours, etc,




Co Kerry.