01 June 2011

Incredibly, Most People Still Think FPTP Is Fair.

Speaking to people who voted no in the referendum, I was amazed to hear how many people say they voted against AV because they wanted to stick with a 'fair' system.

This just demonstrates to me how ineffective the yes campaign was. I could accept that people thought AV just wasn't good enough, or just too complex or whatever else the no campaign told them, but to actually argue that FPTP is a fair system! That is just absurd. FPTP is only one step away from having no elections at all, it is completely unfair. We reformers have a lot of work to do to explain this, but we have to keep plugging away with the facts.

At the last general election campaign, the Lib Dems were top of the polls at one stage. People at the time were shocked to hear that the party in third place (Labour) would get twice the number of seats as the Lib Dems who topped the poll. How absurd is that? How fair is that? It is amazing how quickly people forgot this fact. Everybody should have had this fact rammed down their throat at this referendum by the yes campaign. But somehow people were persuaded that FPTP is fair. That it most definitely isn't!

For example, here are some results from the 2010 general election.

Basically, in Scotland, Wales and Northern England, Labour got 39% of the vote yet over 66% of the seats. In the South excluding London, the Tories got 47% of the vote yet over 82% of the seats. That leaves the Midlands and London where the Tories just topped the poll with 38% of the vote to get 52% of the seats. Northern Ireland is only about 3% of seats in total, so effectively irrelevant.

A 3.9% increase in the Tory vote to 36% garnered them nearly 30% more seats in parliament, a 1% increase in the Lib Dem vote lost them nearly 10% of their seats. Does any of that sound fair?

But when we look even closer it gets even worse. From these charts you can see how results are distorted from region to region, exagerating the difference between the parties, not only smaller parties suffer from FPTP but millions of Labour voters in the South and Tory voters in the North. (South = south west, south east, eastern) (North = north west, north east and yorks+humber).





But even this doesn't show us the real distortion of FPTP. In the South the Tories might get 47% overall, but this hides the variation between their urban and rural vote. They typically get near 80% of the rural vote, but just 20% of the urban vote and about 40% in surburbia. In the North you can halve these figures, so 10% urban, 20% surburban and 40% rural.

The Labour party are facing near death right across the South only averaging 17% of the vote, and getting just 5% of seats. In the European elections, the Labour vote dropped as low as 8% across the South. In rural areas of the South the Labour vote can be less than 3%.

But of course all these figures are affected by tactical voting.

The Tories have big hopes for their boundary changes and this is what makes me think they will want to get to 2013 before wanting to leave the coalition. It makes sense for the Lib Dems to keep this coalition going till 2015 to give people a sense that they were part of this government from start to finish.

The Tories hope they can manipulate the larger boundaries to include more of their rural vote in urban areas to create more marginals. They really couldn't hope to win more seats in the South on this evidence, but in the North, maybe there are possibilities for gerrymandering some more seats. Who knows. Whatever you want to call this process, it ain't fair and it ain't democracy in my humble opinion. The challenge is to get this across to the mass of voters out there.

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