First-Past-The-Post: the ’safe seats’ system that breeds lazy, corrupt MPs

by Stephen Tall on January 14, 2010

Calls for the First-Past-The-Post voting system to be abolished in the UK were given a real kick-start last year after it became clear – thanks to the work of Lib Dem blogger Mark Thompson – that it was MPs with large majorities who were more likely to be implicated in cheating the expenses system.

It’s obvious if you think about it: if you were given life tenure in a safe seat where the Labour/Tory majorities are weighed not counted, how concerned would you be with the irksome business of being transparent and accountable? To put it bluntly – as Nick Clegg did, very much so, last week – First-Past-The-Post and the in-built advantage it gives the Labour and Tory parties tend to make them more prone to corruption.

So far, so familiar. But I was reading Mark Pack’s recent LDV posting, Two new reports into online politics – noting the Hansard Society’s punchily-titled report, ‘A study into how MPs use digital media to communicate with their constituents’ – and this sentence from it leaped out of the page:

… the internet has permeated the culture and day-to-day life of our MPs … [but there are] numerous examples of late or non-adoption. Survey data in fact suggest that adoption relates more to the MP’s majority, length of incumbency and, to some degree, the nature of the constituency (and constituents) than to the party that they belong to. MPs who hold a significant majority are far less likely to use the internet; as are those who have been MPs for a long time.

So there we have it, the MPs least likely to be active dealing with the significant number of their constituents who are internet users are those with the biggest majorities: folk who’ve been around for ages, and know they’re safe from challenge.

Put simply, MPs in safe seats are the laziest. As well as the most corrupt.

The solution? Ah well, that’s an easy one, as any Lib Dem kno’. Fair votes, electoral reform, proportional representation – call it what you will, the effect’s the same: an end to safe seats, and the lazy corruption the First-Past-The-Post system too often breeds.

What we need is for a decent bit of competition to be injected into Parliament, with MPs having to battle for every single vote, rather than simply taking their core ‘heartlands’ for granted.

It is no surprise the Tories are so vigorously opposed to the abolition of First-Past-The-Post: most Tories, nearly always and everywhere, oppose attempts to end entrenched privilege. Their attachment to safe seats is merely the latest example. Competition – rather like taxes – is for other people as far as the Tories are concerned.