13 August 2006

The Great Local Vote Swindle.

The ERS report 'The Great Local Vote Swindle' is now out (actually 14th June, so bit late on this one). (I like the play on Sex Pistols song/film). Here are the main findings and they are as shocking an indictment of FPTP as ever; Particular noteworthy is the help FPTP gives to the BNP (point 5), who would quickly have their absurd policies exposed under PR and lose support.

1. In six out of 32 London boroughs, the party that won
the most seats had not won the highest share of the
vote. In two of those councils, overall control of the
council went to the second most popular party.

2. In six out of 36 metropolitan boroughs there was
the same ‘wrong winner’ phenomenon.

3. In several local authorities controlled by all the
main parties (Newham for Labour, Eastleigh for
the Liberal Democrats and Bexley for the
Conservatives) the electoral system produced
virtual one-party states despite people having
voted in a much less overwhelming fashion.

4. In several councils, notably Peterborough
(Labour), Cambridge (Conservatives) and
Rotherham (Liberal Democrats), a party had more
than 20 per cent of the votes but failed to win any
seats. Green voters in London were particularly
likely to be deprived of a voice.

5. In some authorities the electoral system failed to
represent the main opposition adequately – in the
borough of Barking & Dagenham, the Conservatives
with 9,315 votes elected one councillor and the BNP
with 8,506 votes elected 12 (subject to resolving a
returning officer error). This can lead to artificial
polarisation of local politics.

6. Some councils see a large number of seats
changing hands on a small change in votes, as in
Richmond and Tamworth.

7. Some ward elections are decided on ridiculously
small shares of those voting – 24.9 per cent of the
vote elected a BNP councillor in Stoke-on-Trent.

8. Both the Conservatives and Labour improved their
gender balance somewhat, although there was only
one council electing this time in which women
outnumbered men.

9. The Supplementary Vote system for electing
mayors creates confusion, spoiled ballots and
wasted votes on a massive scale.


  1. BNP got no seats under FPTP in Birmingham council elections despite putting candidates up in all 40 wards and scoring about 18% across the city. Doesn't really chime with your criticism of FPTP helping extremists does it? But don't let facts get in the way of your argument.

  2. FPTP allows the BNP to build support that PR would destroy because FPTP stifles debate and it makes sense for the tabloids to be anti-immigrant under FPTP because it helps cut the Labour vote. The press would not do this under PR because it owuld be pointless to build the BNP vote. Only building the Tory vote will help the Tories under PR. And as there vote is usually quite localised the BNP can do very well under FPTP as Barking demonstrates with the BNP winning 12 seats to the Tories 1 despite getting fewer votes than the Tories.

  3. The fact that the BNP only stood in about a third of the seats in Barking explains the Tory/BNP anomaly. Voters in other wards were demanding to know where their BNP candidate was - but by the time the BNP realised how well they would do it was too late.

    The Slovak Nationalist Party with about 10% of the popular vote is in government under a PR system there. Their leader, Jan Zlota is on record as saying "the best way to deal with gypsies is with a bull-whip in a yard" and "we should round up some boys and attack Budapest with tanks". I think you're letting you are imagination get the better of you with some of the theories you have put forward here.

  4. Under any new PR electoral system it is possible that extremist parties will initially have a good showing. It takes time for the electorate to benefit from the more open debate that PR brings. The new democracies of Eastern Europe are still bedding down in terms of political opinion forming and nationalist parties may reap an initial bonus, like the Front National did in France from very brief switch to PR and back to majoritarian elections. It takes decades for an electoral system to bed down and for the electorate to get used to it.

    Of the more established PR democracies, it is clear that the right wing extremist vote is lower than in the UK, i.e Scandanavia and Germany etc.

  5. I could debate whether the "established PR democracy" is the key determinant in thelevels of voting for extremists, but I'll leave that hanging. I think a lot of people voted for the BNP at the last election safe in the knowledge that they wouldn't then wield power (similar to voting for Le Pen in first round of last round of French Presidential elections?).

    The key point I want you to respond to is how PR can respond to local voters wishes. In countries where PR is done by party lists, politicians are motivated to serve their party rather than the electorate. This is a key criticism of the Frnech system. Maybe you can answer this directly or refer me to another post that addresses this point?