24 July 2005

ERS General Election Report and Analysis..

Courtesy of Make Votes Count, I've been leafing through the new ERS general election report, and here are some of the highlights;

First the obvious well known stuff about how ridiculous our electoral system is;

Labour won a 66 majority, thats 55.1% of the seats with just 35.2% of the vote.
With 61.3% turnout that is only 21.6% of the registered electorate who voted for this government.
Out of an electorate of 44.4 million just 9.6 million votes were needed to form a government with this large a majority.

In England despite getting 50,000 fewer votes than the Tories, Labour won 92 more seats! Despite Tory claims, this is not down to unusual boundary effects that can be corrected in the boundary review but down to a wholesale breakdown in the electoral system due to multiple party voting.

In fact the Tories even managed to get a higher percentage of the seats in England than their vote percentage deserved, 36.6% of seats with 35.7% of the vote. Labour however did even better 54.1% of seats with 35.1% of the vote. These gains for Labour and Tory were all at the expense of the Lib Dems and the minor parties! This goes someway to explaining why the Tories are reluctant to see PR introduced. The Tories already get a proportional share of seats but have the possibility of future power on a minority of the vote, just like Labour are enjoying at the moment.

So if boundary changes cannot correct the Labour advantage, what is causing it, I hear you ask?

Well it's complicated, but firstly and most importantly we have differential turnout. This is where turnout in seats (especially safe seats) that Labour win is much lower than Tory won seats. This means a much lower percentage of the national vote can translate into many more seats for Labour.

Secondly Labour has much more lumpy support. Under first past the post (FPTP) it is better to have your vote concentrated in just enough areas to win and have little votes elsewhere, than to have more even distribution.

Thirdly and much less importantly, as it makes only a few seats difference, Labour seats have slightly (a few thousand on average) less constituents than Tory seats. This will be largely corrected in the boundary review but will make only a few seats difference. This is the point that Tories crow loudly about but is of the least relevance. Also the Tories never complained when they were beneficiaries of this in the past. All of these points are explained in far more detail in the ERS report, including how the Tories would throw out geographical accountability and move us toward the level of gerrymandering of boundaries seen in the US, if they ever get elected again.

Now to the new stuff in the ERS report and I plan to come back to elaborate on these points in future posts, also I'm sure, Paul Davies at Make Votes Count will be providing some expert analysis as well.

Apart from all the many points on the lack of female and ethnic representation, regional anomolies and lower turnouts that FPTP produces, this survey of MPs caught my eye.

Out of 100 newly elected MPs;

36% said they favoured FPTP, but 44% preferred a change in the system. Now most of the ones favouring FPTP were Tories so a large majority of Labour repondents and all the Lib Dems surveyed, favoured a change in the system. This is very promising! Lets hope this new intake is representative.

STOP PRESS: The Political Slot on Channel 4, July 27th, will make the case for electoral reform.

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