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Our fixed voting system

From Anthony Rae

Saturday, 9 May 2015

Take the number of votes cast – which when translated through a 'first past the post' electoral system produces the distribution of MPs declared yesterday – all of which you can read here and then re-allocate them on a strict proportional basis (in practice PR system don't achieve quite this, but that doesn't matter) produces the following analysis:

  • Although there is an approximate equality between the number of votes cast required to deliver a member of Parliament for the two leading contenders for government (around 34,000 votes per MP for the Conservatives, and 40,000 votes per MP for Labour), after this there are levels of unfairness that are first of all unacceptable, and then 'beyond the ridiculous'. The most favourably treated of all are two regional parties - the Democratic Unionist Party in Northern Ireland where only 23,000 votes per MP were required, and the SNP in Scotland, requiring 26,000 votes per MP (as it happened Plaid Cymru needed 61,000 per MP); by contrast the Liberal Democrats needed 302,000 votes per MP - so around 8 times as many as Conservatives/Labour. But then we go to another extreme altogether with the Greens who required around 1.2 million votes per MP, and then by another factor of three with UKIP needing around 3.9 million votes per MP. So, at either end of the spectrum, if you're an english UKIPer (because that's where most of their party support lies) you need 168 times more votes to get an MP than if you are an Ulster Unionist, and 149 times more votes than if you were a Scottish nationalist.
  • If you reallocate the MPs according to the number of votes cast on a strictly proportionate basis you get a quite different outcome at the level of individual parties. The results would now be: Conservatives -240 MPs; Labour-198; UKIP-82; Liberal Democrats-51; SNP-31; Greens-25; DUP and Plaid Cymru 4 each. Each of these parties and their supporters would then be able to say 'well, at least that's about fair'. Whereas if you compare the number of MPs in this reallocation to the actual 'first past the post' distribution, for each individual party, the unfairness is glaring: for UKIPers, Liberal Democrats and Greens - who are UK wide parties, with their electoral strength predominantly in England. On the other hand the strictly regional parties in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are receiving disproportionately favourable treatment.
  • But - and this is the interesting outcome at least for the 2015 election - the resultant government would still be the same. The parties of the right standing across the UK (Conservatives and UKIP) would have 322 MPs between them, and the parties of the centre/left (Labour, Liberal Democrat and Greens) 274 MPs, leaving smaller regional parties (SNP, DUP and PC) to position their 39 MPs in total as they chose.

On the basis of this analysis it must be questioned whether our electoral system, and the governments and apparent party political strengths that it produces, which will now be the basis for political decision making and clamouring for the next five years, can be considered legitimate. Doesn't this claim of 'legitimacy', critical in every democracy proceeding on the basis of 'government by consent', have to be questioned? A majority (and as it happens Conservative) government has been elected with the support of little more than one third of the number of votes cast -36.9%, and 24.4% of the total UK electorate - whilst millions of predominantly English voters have been effectively disenfranchised - all because of a particular voting system which manifestly 'fixes' the result.

Why should we here in Calderdale, in an English region, accept this?

From Anne H

Saturday, 9 May 2015

I totally agree - it's insanely unfair!

Though I don't agree with your conclusion that we would have finished up with the same government. This assumes that the Tories and UKIP would have formed a coalition and both have said that would never happen.

You can sign the petition to reform the voting system here - over 150,000 signatures so far

From John Rhodes

Saturday, 9 May 2015

In an otherwise accurate analysis Anthony Rae makes one error. He says that if in this election we had had proportional representation then, "the resultant government would still be the same".

Not so. Many of us would have voted differently in the knowledge that our vote would count. Locally I voted Labour to keep out the Tory; in a PR system I would have voted Green. First past ther post forces many people into voting for the least worst option; PR allows the voter to vote knowing that their vote will not be 'wasted'.

However, his major point, that our electoral system is broken, is absolutely right.

From Anthony Rae

Sunday, 10 May 2015

John makes an important point - how PR allows voters to switch from voting tactically in a FPTP constituency to according to their real wishes - but is wrong to argue that I made "one error. He says that if in this election we had had proportional representation then, 'the resultant government would still be the same'."

I didn't because I didn't say that. My post was based on the clearly stated premise of redistributing Thursday's actual votes on a proportional basis, not on the counterfactual that if the same election had actually been held under PR then some people would have voted differently.

This is of course true - and just another of the arguments in favour of PR, in addition to 'fairness' - but demonstrating the outcome of that counterfactual is a different and very uncertain exercise, which was also not my intention.

And the same sort of response to Anne. I was merely pointing out a proportional redistribution would have still had the 'parties of the right' in the majority. So those supporting that outcome would be reasured that they would still have achieved it under PR but by a fairer allocation between the parties. Those supporting the 'parties of the left' should not think that a changed voting sytem would somehow have produced a different outcome. There was a more than 2m gap between the national parties of Left and Right.

From Dave G

Sunday, 10 May 2015

I tend to agree that the current system appears to be broken but there are issues with a straight PR based system not least of which is the way in which Irish representation is achieved (personally I would favour a united Ireland outside the UK, but that's for a different thread!). Under Anthony's reckoning the Irish Nationalist vote counts for nothing. Other regional parties will also be less represented nationally than now leading to charges of local needs being ignored.

You could end up like Italy where there has been hardly any stable Government since the war. In Greece the party topping the polls is given a substantial number of additional seats to assist in a winner being able to govern.

Further you will not have a local MP to love or loathe it will be more like the current Euro electoral system with a number of MP's for a larger area, how many of us can name our MEP's?

There will be no appetite for change from the Tories so we are stuck with what we have for 10 years, presuming a new Government is elected with the will to put forward a change in 5 years time.

From Anthony Rae

Monday, 11 May 2015

I don't understand David's point in his first paragraph – I didn't include the N Ireland 'nationalist' MPs in my listing (4 Sinn Fein, 3 SDLP – 275,000 votes between them) partly because the former don't take their seats, but included or not they don't make a difference to the argument. Arguably the UUP 3 MPs could also have been added to the DUP 8 – that 'there are issues with a straight PR based system not least of which is the way in which Irish representation is achieved'. This elevates a detail to much too great a significance.

And then he continues with the entirely familiar objections to proportional systems – governmental stability, constituency connection, etc – that are easily addressed, and which are always deployed to undermine a serious discussion.

But it's his last paragraph – with its assertion of the power of the status quo – that is most disappointing. Electoral systems without legitimacy undermine democracy and breed cynicism; tackling them creates the opportunity for renewal and resurgence. So, to that end, let me give this discussion a little nudge – since its several points of principle have not yet been responded to – in the direction of the party that suffered the worst setback. Here is a quote from the Guardian letters page on Saturday:

'To the Guardian letter writers and commentators who said that after what they've seen they don't like coalitions and prefer single-party government … who voted no in the 2011 [PR] referendum on the grounds they thought it best to have a system which propped up the largest party by giving them many more seats than their share of the vote, so giving a "decisive" single-party majority government in most elections: you have what you wanted. Congratulations.'

For a party that led the way on devolution of real powers to Scotland (population 5m) and Wales (3m), maybe it was their faltering when it came to England (population 53m) – here and here - that will continue to stand in their way. Let me chuck in another statistic: population of Scotland: 5m; of Yorkshire 5m.

Before the election Hebweb was full of voices urging a vote for Labour (to repeat: I don't have a party affiliation myself). Maybe they in particular might now offer a view on what position their party of choice should take on electoral reform… and english devolution comparable to that already granted elsewhere in the UK?

From Dave G

Monday, 11 May 2015

Anthony I do not fundamentally disagree with your basic premise but as always the devil will be in the detail.

The old chestnuts I raise are not mere details of no consequence.

There is a long tradition that the 4 countries of the UK are all represenred in Parliament and they have not been based on equal sized constituencies in Ireland due to politics in Scotland more to do with geography.

We also had a vote on AV that was rejected by popular ballot only a few years ago

My last paragraph merely points out the truth having secured power it will be futile appealing to the better nature of the winning Tory party to change the system. I predict this will fall on deaf ears and the reposte will be you are all just sore losers!

To nail my own banner to the mast I do not really see the capitalist system being fundamentally changed by parliament. It will be the action of the masses smashing the state as Marx and Engels described in their manifesto and the building of a society that works in the interests of the toilers not the bosses that will count in the end!

But please feel free to come up with a viable reform to our flawed democracy. I may vote for it if I am around when it happens if it is in the interests of my class.