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The British electoral system Essay



The British electoral system has historically been involved in bi-party elections except in 1923. The modern multiparty day democracy has been restricted to two parties a tradition that borrows from the first-past-the post system in general as well as local elections. The post war conception of the liberalist a conservatism parties has continued to rule the elective regime to the present day.

Small parties have over the years been downplayed by the two major parties that have continued to dominate the voter population. Inadvertently it would be very easy to perceive of the British system as a bipartisan electoral system which isn’t the case.


Progress has been made in as far as reform of the British electoral system with specific regard to the reform act of 1832 which suffered amendment in consecutive years to involve the plight of women and attempts to stamp out corrupt election practices that had stained the system in the nineteenth century. It would then see the involvement of 18-20 year old in the voting process as well as the provision for absentee voters. The system has shown progress and continues to change to suit contemporary democratic concerns.

The onset of the mass election concept was said to have motivated the need for the adoption of alternative methods of elections. Thanks to political scientists such as John Stuart Mill the intellectual justification that was based on the imminent risk of minority oppression.

The tradition had been to allow the citizens to exercise their right to re-elect outstanding individual through the exercise of proportional representation. The proportional representative system was conceived in 1884 to take the place of the first pas the post system. For years reliance was placed on this system to provide quality leadership to parliament.

The growth and development of the nineteenth century organized parties began to gradually take the place earlier occupied by the territorial principle that motivates the popularity system (Curtice and Steed 98–249). The electoral debate spilled over into the early twentieth century provoking the attention of the royal commission which after deliberation and consultation suggested the alternative voting system.

This approach was supported by nationalist idealists who sympathetically conceived the approach as an attempt to bring together and mitigate the imminent division in the communities. In preceding years the search for a conclusive legal regime to regulation led to the formulation of the representation of the people bill of 1917 which was followed by the endorsement of the alternative vote system.

The electoral reform debate was taken up by the liberal party which at the time was said to be losing its position to the labor party. (Kendall and Stuart 98–249) The debate was later abandoned by the resignation of the labor government in 1931only to be picked up by the liberal party in the 1970s. Since then there have been numerous attempted at reform and counter reform of the electoral system to match the growing number of contemporary



It is common ground that there exists an accepted international consensus as far as the basic principles that govern a free and fair election (Benoit 69–83). The concept is built on the principles of the international human rights provisions as well as the civil and political rights convention.

The provisions of these conventions require that among other things the elections should be frequently held in line with the universal suffrage doctrine. They should be governed by a set of impartial rules and regulations that oversee the registration of voters including the management and counting of the results of the subsequent elections. This ensures that transparency and fairness is maintained throughout the elections.

The elections should also be adequately secured to avoid any chances of violence and duress or undue influence. The media should also provide adequate coverage of the ongoing of the various steps. There should also be a legislative regime to control the level of spending involved in the election to ensure that there is free and fair competition (Curtice and Steed 98–249).

The extent to which the modern day British electoral process complies with the above parameters is subject to debate. These principles are assumed to form part of the British unwritten constitution. However the level of compliance shows a negative trend. This has led to the development of research that has led to the development of electoral reforms.

Democratic audits dating from back in 1990 have provided a comprehensive assessment of the extent to which the British electoral system complies with international democracy benchmarks. The 1999 audit suggested that alongside the critical multiple democratic concerns there lay pertinent concerns as to the harmony between the system and the internationally accepted principles and standards such as secret ballot, bribery free elections that have been freed from bribery and intimidation. (Kendall and Stuart 97–183)

The system was also accused of lack of attention to the continued reduction in the number of people registering to vote. Throughout the history of the system some prisoners continued to be denied their fundamental right to vote. The same was also done to some categories of old people.

The audit also brought to right the need for a particularized approach to the question of regulated campaign spending. As it were the level of spending does have a bearing on the number of votes that the candidate gets by the end of the campaign. However the restriction was only being observed at the local level and not the national level where it matters most. The local regulations themselves did little in the regulation of the effect of spending on elections.

The audit also raises questions of proportionality of the electoral system. The general principle is that one man accounts for one vote and nom more. The electoral system has been often accused of accommodating unconventional practices such as manipulation of boundary reviews. The political resolve has been to invest in swing voters who provide an appropriate opportunity for the influence of electoral outcome.

Modern day electoral malpractice

Political scientists are at pains to conclusively establish the position of the electoral system today in as far as malpractice is concerned. This to a great extent can be blamed on the lack of a central body that gathers that gathers data in these respects.

The only vivid recourse centers remain with the crown prosecution services, the official statistics on RPA offences and the official statistics on electoral petitions. In the absence of a regulatory regime, the number of electoral offences has been said to grow from 2500 in 2000 and 2006 to 109500 different cases. (Johns and Padgett 203-227)

In actuality there has been little evidence to support the claim of electoral malpractice down from year 2000. This is hard to believe especially with the onset of the postal voting practice which involves numerous variables.

The reform attempts to increase voter turnout have turned futile and instead have caused low confidence in the electoral system (Curtice and Steed 98–249). The most influential misgiving of the electable system has been the negative impression on elector administration. The burden placed on the commissions is overwhelmingly large and yet there is little motivation to alter this stand.


Different approaches have been made in trying to get around the British electoral system. It is common ground the British system never lacks the necessary criticism.

The various political scientists have tirelessly addressed the need for reform and restructuring of the procedural requirements of the system it would be a great injustice to condemn the system entirely due to its all too conspicuous misgivings. The system has been successful in sticking a reasonable compromise for the British national in as far as leadership is concerned. Therefore the system has not entirely failed in its objective.

In the same spirit the competitive and consensus concerns may be used to evaluate the progress of an electoral system. On these parameters the system fails to meet the required provisions required to keep afloat with the emerging modernist ideology and principles of governance.

Even more importantly a two party system has been considered as an appropriate motivator of single member popularity and vice versa. In the future it is important that consideration be made to ensure that the electoral system operates in harmony with the international standards as emulated by the United Nations conventions. There is therefore a need for a root and branch reform approach to the revolutionalisation of the British electoral system.

Works Cited

Benoit, Kenneth. “Duverger’s Law and the Study of Electoral Systems”. French Politics (2006): 83– 469

Curtice, John and Steed, Michael. ‘Electoral Choice and the Production of Government: The Changing Operation of the Electoral System in the UK Since 1955’. British Journal of Political Science.12 (1982): 98–249

Johns, Robert and Padgett, Steven. “The role of government: public values and party politics”. In: British Social Attitudes: The 24th Report. Ed. Alison Park et al. London: Sage, 2008, 203-227.

Kendall, Maurice and Stuart, Alan. “Electoral Choice and the Production of Government”: The Changing Operation of the Electoral System in the UK since 1955’. British Journal of Political Science. 12, 1983:96–244

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IvyPanda. 2019. "The British electoral system." February 21, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/the-british-electoral-system/.


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