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Thread: How did first past the post get its name...?

  1. #1
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    Nov 2010
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    How did first past the post get its name...?

    First-past-the-post: a rogue’s practice?

    How did ‘first-past-the-post’ voting – the common target of election reform campaigns in Britain, Canada and the US – get its famous name?

    “FPTP” is really just a plurality criterion: the candidate with the most votes wins election, even if they are well below the 50% support threshold that signifies majority support in the community.

    In the UK and Canadian parliaments winning seats with around 30% of the vote is quite common. There are currently four members of the Canadian House of Commons who won election with only 28% of the vote in their electoral districts. In 2015 just 24% of the voters in Belfast South elected a person to the UK House of Commons.

    First-past-the-post is known to be a British invention, and there is a myth attached to it that it is the ‘original’ way that the British Parliament was elected. But that’s simply not correct as a matter of history.
    The UK House of Commons was elected using mostly two-member districts until the late 19th century, as we’ll see in a moment.

    Elections in Canada from as early as 1791, and in Australia from the 1850s, largely used single-member districts, mostly because the scattered nature of small communities in the settler nations made it a useful idea.

    And the United States Congress – which started out in 1788-89 with lots of multi-member districts – tried to legislate a nationwide system of single-member districting from 1842, in an attempt by the then Whig party majority at gaining partisan advantage (specifically, to remove the even worse ‘block voting’ plurality voting system which was aiding their opponents).

    But most of these 19th century elections were happening in an era where party discipline in elections had yet to take on its modern form. The representation problems we now see arising from single-member electoral districts had yet to become so obvious.

    And anyway, 19th century elections fell far short of modern standards: women were not allowed to vote, there were property-ownership criterion even for men voting, and so on. Comparing elections held before the early 20th century with modern democracies is a bit pointless.

    In any case, the story of how ‘first-past-the-post’ got its name is worth telling for its own sake.
    Most people know the story is something to do with horse races, and it is.

    It turns out that ‘first-past-the-post’ betting (not racing, and certainly not voting) was a dubious and brief-lived wagering practice in the less regulated part of late 19th century English horse-racing industry.

    In 1885 one of the period’s preeminent scholars of horseracing, jockey and trainer William Day (1823-1908), had this to say in his major work The Racehorse in Training:

    “The suburban meetings, as they are called, are those which cast the greatest blot on the reputation of the Turf. It is only a natural result that in the neighbourhood of large towns, more especially of the Metropolis, races should attract a concourse of people amongst whom manners and morality are only conspicuous by their absence. ….

    The disgraceful exhibitions often seen at such meetings were recently made more objectionable by the introduction of “first-past-the-post” betting, which was simply this: the horse that is first past the post, and is so placed by the judge, wins the race so far as his backers are concerned, for they are paid. It does not matter what the horse may be, or his age, of the weight he carries, or the course he runs, of that immediately afterward he is disqualified and the race given to the second horse: he has won to all intents and purposes. Fortunately, the practice was stopped in its infancy through the vigilance of the Jockey Club …”

    Note that in Day’s account the phrase applied not to a form of racing, but to a form of betting. Specifically, it was a betting practice that lacked regulation and proper forms of integrity to guarantee the betting public a fair return on their wager.
    So contrary to modern misconceptions, the architecture of the single-member electoral system known today as first-past-the-post was not ‘original’ to the British system at all, but was born of a self-interested political pact. It was a deal deliberately intended to achieve specific electoral outcomes for the incumbent political parties which agreed to legislate it into existence.

    Cabinet member Leonard Courtney resigned over the voting system change later to be dubbed first-past-the-post

    Not everyone agreed with the deal, including many Liberal MPs. Liberal Minister Leonard Courtney – then and later a staunch supporter of proportionate representation using the STV system – resigned from Cabinet over the deal. Courtney went on to become a leading figure in Britain’s proportional representation movement.

    At the time Prime Minister Gladstone, confident in his party’s dominance in the electorate, calculated that his government would be the first beneficiary of the distortionary effects of the new first-past-the-post system – effects which stir so much controversy to this day in several nations.

    But in an outcome rich in irony, Gladstone was wrong. The next British election held in late 1885 overthrew all his expectations, as Salisbury’s Tories out-campaigned the Liberals across the country, including among the newly enfranchised lower-propertied and lower-incomed voters.

    The Tories, not the Liberals, won the first benefit of the electoral distortion caused by the number and geographical distribution of party votes.
    Unsurprisingly, they have defended the system ever since.

    full article here
    sing to me the history of my country. It is sweet to the soul to hear it. Flann Mac Lonain ( c.850-918 a.d)
    Alba gu brath An rud is fhiach a ghabhail, 's fhiach e iarraidh

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Oct 2007
    Newport, South Wales
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    I prefer to refer to the electoral commission

    interestingly, in 2010, they published a report indicating hardly anyone knew what First Past the Post and Alternative Vote actually MEANT. Something Gordon Brown was of course counting on
    "The Inland Revenue is not slow, and quite rightly, to take every advantage which is open to it under the Taxing Statutes for the purposes of depleting the taxpayer's pocket. And the taxpayer is in like manner entitled to be astute to prevent, so far as he honestly can, the depletion of his means by the Inland Revenue"

    Lord Clyde: "Ayrshire Pullman Motor Services V Inland Revenue, 1929"

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