28 June 2006

It's Labour bias, ok?

I wish articles would stop saying the electoral system is biased AGAINST the Tories. It is biased IN FAVOUR of Labour, which is a totally different thing. The Tories get pretty much the percentage of seats that their percentage of the vote deserves (30.7, 32.3 respectively - and the bias will no doubt be in their favour at the next election like it has in the past). It is the Lib Dems and other minor parties that get a right shafting from the system.

Also I wish the press could get their facts right. I know electoral reform is as interesting as ditch water to most people, but journalists should at least try to copy the house magazine right. The press association feed has led to articles in all the papers that are dramatically incorrect. As Paul Davies of Make Votes Count explains here.


  1. In 2005, the Conservatives won 60,000 more votes in England than Labour yet won 92 fewer English seats, that suggests a democratic deficit in England at least!

    Your analysis also falls apart in Scotland and Wales where the Conservatives are significantly under-represented if their total number of votes polled is considered.

  2. snafu: Read what I have put. Bias in Labour's favour is not the same as bias against the Tories. Both Labour and the Tories do well out of FPTP, it is OTHER parties that are being shafted.

    In England the Tories won 35.7% of the vote and received 36.7% of the seats, so they are actually OVER-REPRESENTED in England.

    Overall across the UK they got roughly the number of seats their vote share deserves, 32.3/30.7

    At the next election the Tories will be over-represented throughout the UK like they have been many times before. You Tories can't complain about the system and ignore the fact that it is the Lib Dems and other minor parties who lose out NOT the Tories.

  3. Give that the Tories could have gained a majority in the Commons at the last election if they'd only managed to swing around 20,000 votes, witout even winning the popular vote, it's ridiculous to say that the electoral system is biased against them or for Labour. The system is fubarred, and any appearance of bias simply reflects the fact that nobody can really win legitimately under FPTP.

  4. gregg: The bias in favour of Labour may be accidental but it is still a bias. It could easily happen the other way with different boundaries (and has done in the past).

  5. I don't think you can have an accidental bias. You can say the system accidentally favours Labour, but talking of bias implies it's somehow been designed or rigged in their favour.

    But my point was that it could happen the other way around even with the current boundaries. It would have only taken the Tories a few thousand more votes to get a majority in Parliament last year, without actually getting a majority in the country. The system is biased in favour of whoever manages to win those few thousand swing voters in a couple of dozen marginal seats.

  6. Neil, I take your point about the "over-representation" but I really don't like the idea of a permanently hung parliament where policy is determined by horse-trading. I might not enjoy Labour being in office, but they at least have a chance to pass legislation that they believe is good for the country and are held accountable for it.

    If PR was introduced and the Conservatives won the largest share of the vote yet were unable to drive through policy as the Liberal Democrats voted down any such measures by joining Labour in the divisions, this would perversely give the Liberal Democrats too much power! I would expect them to side with the largest party wherever possible.

    I'm more disturbed by the growing apathy amongst the electorate rather than how votes are counted up and allocated!

    There is a lovely irony that the Conservatives would have David Davis as leader had they adopted FPTP!

    Gregg makes some very good points too!

  7. greg: "The system is biased in favour of whoever manages to win those few thousand swing voters in a couple of dozen marginal seats."

    I suppose you are right about 'accidental bias', I am using the wrong phraseology. The bias is to whomever gets the votes in the 'right places' which can be totally arbitrary (as you point out).

    snafu: We are into a long debate about the merits of coalition government and PR. There are many many points I can make on this. There are so many myths about the evils of coalition government - the supposed unaccountability argument really is laughable when you look in-depth at the facts. It is FPTP that is unaccountable not an open PR system. FPTP is effectively a closed list system (but without even the benefit of proportionality).

    I could go to the bookmakers today and name the party that will win in 80% of the seats at the 2009 election (and bookmakers would refuse every single bet such a sure thing it would be).

    A candidate in these seats for the dominant party is effectively made a MP by the party not the voters. The candidate would have to be involved with some sex scandal with a goat to lose (and even then it wouldn't be certain they'd lose).

    This is not the sign of an accountable electoral system. Most people can't even name their MP, let alone do they actually vote for them. Not a single MP wins a majority of the registered electorate, only a handful win a majority of the vote and there are many many with very low pluralities (the lowest being Galloway with just 18%. Considering the low registration rate in some of these poverty seats with low turnout, the real figure for Galloway could be as low as 10%.)

    At the end of the day, the UK and USA have some of the highest levels of inequality and the poorest public services. In Germany and other PR countries they have better public services and less inequality, they even have had higher levels of post-war economic growth. How bad can PR be? Lets consider the facts not the tabloid scare stories. The Lib Dems would have no more influence than their vote deserves. You forget that the party situations will be very different in a post-PR world. There will be a range of parties and views more accurately represented, more minority MPs etc. For example, at the last election most swing voters switched from Labour (-5.5%) to Lib Dems (+5%), yet the vast majority of seats went to the Tories whose vote was static.

    I make some more points about PR here and here.

  8. Snafu; the difference between a PR enabled coalition and an FPTP enabled coalition is that the former is honest, the latter not.

    Broad Church parties are a creation of PR, and deny choice tothe electorate. A pro-EU Tory or an anti-ID cards Labourite are in trouble in many but not all LAbour/Tory seats, what do they do?

    Under STV, as in Ireland, you get more choice and much more honest politics. As the POWER report and other studies have shown, the way votes are counted is a significant (possibly the significant) factor in voter apathy; "they're all the same" is a by-product of FPTP and 2-party choice in each district.

    You "expect them to side with the largest party"? Why? Each of the "big three" parties are broad churches created for electoral advantage in the current system. Currently, the Lib Dems are much more in agreement with Cameron's line on most liberty discussions, but with Labour on welfare provision. IT shouldn't be "side with the largest" it should be "negotiate a consensus".

    Make Parliament actually debate something for once, make those debates mean something. Every anti-argument is effectively a straw man. The electoral system is the cause of most of the other problems in 21st centruy parliamentary politics, and the root cause of apathy.