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Geert Wilders and the debate over PR for Westminster

Mike McCartney

27th November 2023

The outcome of the 2023 Dutch elections - another argument in favour of ditching first past the post for Westminster elections?

If you didn't already know, the UK stands as one of only two European countries that employs the simple plurality system, often referred to as first past the post (fptp), for elections to its national parliament (with the other being Belarus).

It is also stands alone as the only country never to elect a fascist to its nation's parliament, never mind vote one in as the leader of the country's biggest party. Which brings us to Geert Wilders.

Questions on the video

1. What is the name of the far-right populist party that claimed victory in the Dutch general election?

2. Why was the party leader once detained and refused entry by the home office?

3. What are some of the views on Islam expressed in the party's Manifesto?

4. How has the party leader tried to distance himself from certain pledges in recent weeks?

5. What is the next step in the political process after the election?

6. Which other European figures have celebrated the party leader's victory?

7. What issues will the EU elections determine the Block's policy on?

8. What is the party leader's stance on EU membership?

9. What challenge does the party leader face in securing the backing he needs in Parliament?

10. How does the length of time it took to form the previous government compare to the potential length of time for the current government?

Suggested answers:

1. Freedom Party or PVV

2. His views on Islam were deemed dangerous

3. Ban on the Quran, closure of mosques and Islamic schools

4. By admitting the Constitution won't allow them

5. Coalition talks

6. Marine Le Pen and Matteo Salvini

7. Ukraine and climate change

8. He calls for Nexit but the appetite for a referendum is low

9. Competing interests and a splintered Parliament

10. The previous government nearly 300 days, the current one could take even longer

So this brings us to arguments for and against continuing with first past the post for electing MPs to the House of Commons...

The arguments for scrapping the simple plurality system for the House of Commons go something like this...

  • PR would produce fairer results since it could convert a share of the vote equally into a share of the seats. Currently fptp does not do this.
  • According to campaigners, the introduction of PR for Westminster would bring to an end the system of ‘disproportionate representation’ we have at present under fptp.
  • Opponents of the fptp system would argue that the inherent faults within the system depress turnout and because PR would mean all votes count then people would be more inclined to vote.
  • Supporters of proportional electoral systems argue that fewer votes are wasted than under the current system. Under fptp many of the votes cast do not matter since they go towards a candidate other than the winner, or they are surplus to the number needed to elect the winner.
  • On a related point, what pro-PR campaigners call ‘safe seat syndrome’ means that turnout is likely to be lowest in the safest seats, and highest where the votes is likely to be close.
  • Only a tiny percentage of the electorate have the power to influence the outcome of the General Election.
  • The current system for Westminster elections is said to lead to the under-representation of women.
  • In conclusion it is clear that, as the ERS argue, “in a modern democracy fairness, accountability and a real choice for voters should not be compromised.”

However, defenders of the system argue that...

  • It is a tried and tested system with a certain amount of public acceptance. It is also simple and easy for people to understand.
  • The fptp system has historically been simple, familiar, quick to count, and most of the time produces a clear and decisive result.
  • The close relationship between MPs and constituencies is a vital feature of the current system.
  • First past the post has the effect of keeping out small, extremist parties by discriminating against them - the UK is alone among European democracies in never having elected a fascist to its national legislature, for example
  • First past the post presents a clear choice for voters but this can be seen as a device for maintaining control over who is elected.
  • Lastly, and of particular relevance here: there is usually no need for coalitions since the natural mechanics of the system produces single party governments with (in recent times often large) overall majorities. This avoids the need for wrangling amongst coalition partners over what policies are to be introduced – usually behind closed doors, and in smoke-filled rooms. First past the post, by contrast, tends to delivers strong, single party government with a clear electoral mandate.

In the aftermath of the election the outgoing PM, Mark Rutte, has said his party (PVV/Freedom) would not join in a coalition with Wilders. Thus leaving the New Social Contract party as potential kingmakers, either with Wilders or other parties. Don't hold your breath!!

Mike McCartney

Mike is an experienced A-Level Politics teacher, author and examiner.

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