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Electoral systems

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Various electoral systems are used in the UK:

The first-past-the-post system is used for general elections to the House of Commons, and also for some local government elections in England and Wales.
The plurality-at-large voting (the bloc vote) is also used for some local government elections in England and Wales.
The additional member system is used for elections to the Scottish Parliament, the National Assembly for Wales (Welsh Assembly) and London Assembly. The system is implemented differently in each of the three locations.
The single transferable vote system is used in Northern Ireland to elect the Northern Ireland Assembly, local councils, and Members of the European Parliament, and in Scotland to elect local councils.
The alternative vote system is used for by-elections in Scottish local councils.
The D'Hondt method of party-list proportional representation is used for European Parliament elections in England, Scotland and Wales.
The supplementary vote is used to elect directly elected mayors in England, including the mayor of London.

The use of the first-past-the-post to elect members of Parliament is unusual among European nations. The use of the system means that when three or more candidates receive a significant share of the vote, MPs are often elected from individual constituencies with a plurality (receiving more votes than any other candidate), but not an absolute majority (50 percent plus one vote).

Elections and political parties in the United Kingdom are affected by Duverger's law, the political science principle which states that plurality voting systems, such as first-past-the-post, tend to lead to the development of two-party systems. The UK, like several other states, has sometimes been called a "two-and-a-half" party system, because parliamentary politics is dominated by the Labour Party and Conservative Party, while the Liberal Democrats, used to, hold a significant number of seats (but still substantially less than Labour and the Conservatives), and several small parties (some of them regional or nationalist) trailing far behind in number of seats, although this changed in the 2015 general election.

In the last few general elections, voter mandates for Westminster in the 30–40% ranges have been swung into 60% parliamentary majorities. No single party has won a majority of the popular vote since the Third National Government of Stanley Baldwin in 1935. On two occasions since World War II – 1951 and February 1974 – a party that came in second in the popular vote actually came out with the larger number of seats.

Electoral reform for parliamentary elections have been proposed many times. The Jenkins Commission report in October 1998 suggested implementing the Alternative Vote Top-up (also called alternative vote plus or AV+) in parliamentary elections. Under this proposal, most MPs would be directly elected from constituencies by the alternative vote, with a number of additional members elected from "top-up lists." However, no action was taken by the Labour government at the time. There are a number of groups in the UK campaigning for electoral reform, including the Electoral Reform Society, Make Votes Count Coalition and Fairshare.

The 2010 general election resulted in a hung parliament (no single party being able to command a majority in the House of Commons). This was only the second general election since World War II to return a hung parliament, the first being the February 1974 election. The Conservatives gained the most seats (ending 13 years of Labour government) and the largest percentage of the popular vote, but fell 20 seats short of a majority.

The Conservatives and Liberal Democrats entered into a new coalition government, headed by David Cameron. Under the terms of the coalition agreement the government committed itself to hold a referendum in May 2011 on whether to change parliamentary elections from first-past-the-post to AV. Electoral reform was a major priority for the Liberal Democrats, who favour proportional representation but were able to negotiate only a referendum on AV with the Conservatives. The coalition partners campaigned on opposite sides, with the Liberal Democrats supporting AV and the Conservatives opposing it. The referendum resulted in the Conservative's favour and the first-past-the-post system was maintained.


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