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Britain has been living under a two party system since the mid-seventeenth Century. However, this system is still a foundation of most ideas of British politics. Other than America, Britain is one of the only major countries that have a two party system.
First of all, the system advantages big parties with more seats.
When a party wins an election, whether he has won by a majority or not, he gets a majority of seats. For example, when Labour won in 1997, they got 60% of the seats, although they had not won the election by a majority. This advantages the party because more seats mean more power and they can then impose their ideas on other parties and always be sure to pass legislation.
This leads to our second advantage; a stronger executive. With this majority of seats, the party can, as we said before, pass on their laws easily, but also resist ministers. This advantages the voter as he is sure that the party he voted for will be “making the law”. For example, if Mr. Smith voted for Labour in the 1997 elections, then he is obviously in favour of their ideas and laws.
So, when they make new decisions when they are in power, Mr. Smith is likely to be in favour of them, and so has a better chance of having the legislation passed. The voter is therefore privileged.
Another advantage is that the voter has a clear choice. Because there is only one party elected, the elector can follow what the party is doing, i.e. whether it is keeping its promises or not. If the party does not do what it promised it would, then the voter can then hold it responsible at the next election. And because there is no coalition in British Government, then only one party can be responsible. For example: Let’s say Conservatives promise during their campaign to make sensible decisions during conflicts. Then comes a conflict between Ireland and Northern Ireland. Conservatives, now in power, decide to bomb Northern Ireland. Because of this, the conflict becomes much harsher which leads to a war between Britain and Northern Ireland. The voter is then aware of the mistake Conservatives have made, and therefore can dismiss Conservatives at the next election. Although the two party system has these advantages, it seems to have more disadvantages. First of all, voters have a very limited choice when it comes to elections.
In Britain there are various parties, but only two have been in power until now: Labour and Conservatives. Therefore, the voter seems to be obligated to choose between one and the other. And since they are opposites, they have completely different views. It’s black or white. There is the party of Liberal Democrats, but the number of people voting for them is too little to be taken into consideration (hence the two-party system).
For example: If Labour are arguing that Health Services should be 100% public and Conservatives want it to be 100% private, what will Mrs. Johnson do if she wants it half/half? It will be very hard for her to know who to vote for. The choice is too limited and therefore the two party system should be changed.
Secondly, we may think that having a one party government makes it stronger and more stable, but in fact, in times of crisis, coalition is vital. And it is hard to believe that millions of individual voters all consciously coordinate and have the same ideas than the party. It is true that during the two great wars and during the 1931 economic crisis, British Government had to resort to coalition. It is too hard for one party alone to make all the decisions at times of war.
Another drawback of the two party system is that all other parties are disadvantaged; the number of seats are not proportional to the percentage of votes a party has won. If a party wins an election, whether he had a majority of votes or not, he will get a majority of seats. This is unfair and undemocratic. Other parties get a very small number of seats and so hardly get a say during conferences.
For example: Let’s say during the 2003 elections, Labour get 44% of the votes, Conservatives get 31%, Liberal Democrats get 18% and the last 7% go to various parties. Labour are going to get 60% of the seats, Conservatives around 20%, Liberal Democrats around 10% and the rest will go to the other parties remaining. This is unfair as Labour did not get a majority of votes, and therefore should not win a majority of seats.
The strongest disadvantage of this two party system is the “First Past the Post” election system. In Britain, the party who wins the election is the one that gets the most votes. If Conservatives get elected with 41% of the votes, while Labour got 36%, Liberal Democrats got 21% and remaining parties got 2%, then Britain will have a Government that only 41% of the country agrees with. Therefore 59% of the country will be dissatisfied. This is absurd and completely undemocratic.
In France, a candidate can only be elected if he has an absolute majority (over 50% plus one vote). This way, it is certain that at least half of the population is satisfied. Moreover, the President has to elect a Prime Minister from the opposite party. Therefore there is a coalition between the two parties and voters are contented.
Although the electoral system in Britain hasn’t changed in years, it seems that there are more disadvantages than advantages in it. It is treating parties unequally, and this is unacceptable for a 21st Century Society. I think it is important to change this system, and then we will have a better chance of expressing our opinions through our elected parties. Politics is about freedom of expression and this system completely spoils our freedom. “A State without the means of some change is without the means of its conservation.” Edmund Burke
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