03 January 2015

The 2010 and 2015 General Elections Will Dispel A Lot Of Untruths About Coalition Government

In 2015 we are likely to get a second consecutive hung parliament. And without radical and controversial boundary changes, that are due to come in in 2018, we could get a third or even more.

We were told by proponents of our current voting system that this could only happen under proportional systems.

We were also told that coalition government was unstable and couldn't be long lasting or provide "strong" or radical government.

As we near the end of five years of one of the most radical governments ever, we find other myths about coalition are dismissed too.

We were told coalition would mean perpetual Lib Dems in government, though that seems unlikely after 2015 with the most likely coalition a Labour/ SNP one.

The only claim left is that coalition can be unpopular and divisive. Yes, as unpopular and divisive as the Thatcher governments were. But I suspect that has more to do with our politics being bought by big business.

The truth is, our voting system is the straitjacket imposed on voters to maintain the two party duopoly. But thankfully this is breaking down. Lots of voters are scared into voting for the big two parties because their fear of one is greater than their distaste of the other. The spoiler effect and disproportionality are the big parties' friends.

As the combined vote of the big two plummets towards 60%, the system still delivers them 85%-90% of the seats. The coming boundaries could make this worse. But people want more choice. They want political parties that listen to their members not big donors. If voters keep voting for newer more radical parties and the combined vote of the big two drops below 50%. Could they still resist voting reform? They would certainly try.

Voters accepted 35% of the vote delivering a majority. Would they accept 29%?

But more than the percentage of vote for the "winning party" or the "turnout" percentage. The numbers we need to watch to determine the health of our democracy are the total number of registered voters compared to the voting age population, and the total votes a "winning" party gets. So 35% of the vote in the future, could be far less than 35% of the vote is now.

Even when the voting age population was 10m smaller, Thatcher, Major and 1997 Blair were getting seat majorities with 13m to 14m voters. By 2005, Blair got a majority with less than 11m. Cameron nearly got a majority with 10.7m.

With the new harder registration rules already "disappearing" millions off the register, with millions more predicted to go by 2020, this "winning majority" of voters could drop dramatically.

Registration numbers are failing to keep pace with voting age population growth.

In the 1950s, a 50m population had 40m on the electoral roll. Today's 65m population has around 45m on the roll. 3.5m eligible voters are estimated as unregistered and this could grow to 10m with the new rules.

Another issue to watch is the disparity between voter roll numbers for local and European elections, that includes all EU citizens resident in the UK and Westminster elections that don't.

Migration is an established fact and as the number disenfranchised in this way grows across Europe from around 5% of voting age towards 10% and beyond, it will become more and more unacceptable. As an already vulnerable group, this disenfranchisement will encourage political parties to treat them even more unfairly and will distort our politics.

All of this is relevant to coalition government because coalitions tend to increase the number of votes required to win a majority of seats. Under a proportional system, coalitions need even more voters to rule. Obviously this is more democratic.

Be very suspicious of those who argue in favour of a system that allocates power to parties on a smaller and smaller number of votes.

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