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6 May, 2005

It Says Here

So, Lancaster's Tory again, after eight years under Labour.  I think it has to be considered that way – this was always a Conservative stronghold until the extraordinary 1997 election ousted the 'Thatcher-in-all-but-name' government, and with the backlash against the Blair government and an outgoing MP who, frankly, was an ineffectual representative of his constituency, it's no great surprise that the area has reverted to its more usual party allegiance.

The magnitude of the swing was rather surprising - 2001's 0.9% Labour majority has turned into an 8% Tory majority. Even if 2,278 votes hadn't been wasted on the Greens, their 4.4% applied to Labour wouldn't have been enough, especially as, by the same argument, votes not wasted on the other no-hoper party, UKIP, probably would have contributed 1.9% to the Conservatives. I could say 'if only a few more natural Liberal Democrat voters had tactically voted for Labour (as I did), we might have held the barrier against the Tories', but that would have required a lot of tactical voting.

Actually, that implies that the Tories did particularly well here, but that's untrue. Their share of the vote only rose by 0.6%, whereas the LibDems, Greens and even UKIP improved their shares by 5.9%, 1.4% and 0.5% respectively. The significant, and obvious, difference was that their gains were at the expense of Labour, whose share dropped by 8.3%.

If only we had a fair electoral system in the UK. The Conservatives received 42.8% of the votes of only 64.5% of the eligible electorate, which, as the single highest total, was enough under the 'first-past-the-post' system. However, it means 57.2% of voters didn't vote for the person elected as their representative. As a proportion of the entire electorate, including non-voters, that means the new MP has a mandate of 27.6%.

Comments

Too true.

What's even more disgusting is that nationally, Labour got 56.4% of the seats (355 of the 629 so far declared) for only 36.0% of the popular vote. The Conservatives are less than 3 percentage points behind Labour in popular vote but over 25% behind in seats, and the LDP, with 22.6% of the vote, have less than 10% of the seats.

I hope your country goes for some sort of electoral reform! Good luck!

Posted by Jon. at May 6, 2005 05:13 PM

It certainly is appalling; the 'first-past-the-post' system is plainly inadequate for individual constituency elections, but simply totalling the numbers of seats won by each party and using the 'first-past-the-post' system again to decide which one forms the Government is ludicrous.

This is yet another argument for the STV variety of proportional representation: due to an aspect I confess I don't entirely understand, individual constituency MPs are directly elected, then additional members are added according to their parties' shares of the overall votes total. Not only does each constituency receive the 'correct' representative, the nation receives the 'right' parliament.

The biggest problem of all is that the current arrangement favours the dominant 2 (3?) parties, who will decide whether to allocate parliamentary time to considering reform and turkeys rarely vote for christmas.

Posted by NRT at May 6, 2005 07:17 PM

You're confusing STV (single transferable vote) with MMP (mixed-member proportional) systems. Germany (among many others) uses MMP, while only a few places (Republic of Ireland, Malta and the Australian Senate, IIRC) use STV.

In a nutshell, STV asks voters to rank the candidates (or as many of them as the voter wishes) in order of preference. There are multiple representatives for each constituency (3-7, but usually 5). A formula based on number of votes cast and number of available seats sets a threshold. Any candidate with enough first-choice votes to pass the threshold is declared elected, and the excess votes above the threshold are distributed among the other candidates by second choice. This continues until all seats are filled or there is no candidate over the threshold. If no candidate is over the threshold, the lowest-ranked candidate at that point is dropped, and his or her votes distributed. This continues until the requisite number of candidates are elected.

It's a bit complicated in its workings, but fairly simple in practice: people just rank the candidates. You still get local representation (although the definition of "local" has to be widened) but strategic voting is virtually eliminated. Party control over candidates is also reduced, because you could rank some members of a party high and others low.

Mathematicians and experts on the electoral process generally consider STV to be the most "democratic" form of voting - ie. it comes closest to expressing the true wishes of the electorate.

The only way to get STV seems to be to convince a relatively small party to make it (or at least electoral reform) part of their platform, then make sure that party gets big! That's what happened here in British Columbia.

Posted by Jon. at May 6, 2005 11:41 PM

I understand the mechanism of the transferrable vote, thanks, but you're quite right, I was confusing STV with what's known as Additional Member System (AMS) or AV+ here. The latter is the variety favoured by the 'Make My Vote Count' coalition I mentioned last week, and is a refinement of the AMS already used for the Scottish Parliament, the Welsh Assembly and the London Assembly.

Posted by NRT at May 7, 2005 10:21 AM
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