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General Election 2015: First Past The Post messes it up again

Well that was a bit of a shock, wasn’t it? The opinion polls got it wrong and we ended up with a Conservative majority government. Albeit one which only gained 37% of the popular vote. That is, 11.3 million people voted Conservative, while 19.3 million people voted for a different party. This should not yield a governing mandate: 37% of the vote led to 51% of the seats. However, given that the Conservatives have a Parliamentary majority as a result of the the discredited First Past The Post (FPTP) voting system, I don’t expect them to start singing and dancing about voting reform any time soon.

Let’s be honest, though, FPTP really made some of these results look very silly indeed. More than 1 million people voted Green and they only got 1 MP; nearly 4 million people voted UKIP and they only got 1 MP. That’s appallingly undemocratic. Under a more proportional system, these two parties would have received about 25 and 80 seats respectively. It is right to be in favour of this even if one disagrees with, say, UKIP’s policies: if 4 million people vote for a party, they should have a very strong representation in Parliament.

In Scotland, it was even worse. Almost exactly 50% of Scottish voters voted SNP: this lucky 50% saw SNP win in 56 of the 59 constituencies, that’s 95% of the seats! The other 50% of Scottish voters weren’t so lucky: their votes led to just 3 MPs, just 5% of the seats. Looking at the map, you’d think that everyone in Scotland voted SNP, when that’s clearly not the case. It’s worth adding, however, that the SNP are in favour of a proportional system for Westminster elections and it’s not their fault the current system benefits them so much.

This is the fundamental failing of the results of FPTP: it exaggerates division and subtle differences. FPTP really, really has to go!

It was undoubtedly a catastrophic election for the Liberal Democrats, but most party members I’ve seen express an opinion believe that it was the ‘right thing’ to go into coalition in 2010. It was sad to see some key players lose their seats: ministers who have done a good job over the past five years, such as Vince Cable and Danny Alexander in business and at the Treasury, and Lynne Featherstone and Jo Swinson who have done great work on equal rights. If electoral wipe-out was the price for implementing lots of liberal policies and curtailing illiberal plans from the Conservatives, then perhaps it was a price worth paying.

I’m curious to see how David Cameron’s fairly small Parliamentary majority works in practice: it has the potential to become troublesome in future (c.f. John Major in 1990s) although I expect that in the short term there won’t be many rebellions from the Conservative benches. A small majority carries its own risk that the agenda may be steered by the extreme wings of the Conservative party. David Cameron may look back fondly on the Coalition’s majority of 70+!

(The day after the election, we had resignations from Clegg, Miliband and Farage: I had planned to include a joke here about these three being the new presenters of ‘Top Gear’, but it seems that since I drafted this Farage has un-resigned … !)

I certainly believe that the presence of the Liberal Democrats in government will be sorely missed. They implemented large parts of their manifesto and also kept the Conservatives in check when necessary. As I’m writing this post, the Liberal Democrats have announced that they have gained 10,000 new members since polling day, which is quite remarkable. There seems to be a very positive ‘fight back’ in place.

Until the next election, this is who I’m campaigning with:

  1. I’ve been a member of the Liberal Democrats for more than five years and still think it’s the best choice, even though I don’t necessarily agree with every detail of policy
  2. I’ve been a member of the Electoral Reform Society for more than five years: they campaign continuously to reform voting systems in the UK to make them more democratic and fairer. As you’d imagine, they always have an awful lot to say regarding General Elections because of both their significance and the disproportionate results that arise.
  3. I’ve been a member of the Open Rights Group for two days although I’ve been following their activities for some time. I was motivated to join after news was announced that there was a plan to reintroduce the so-called Snooper’s Charter, which the Liberal Democrats had successfully and rightly ‘blocked’ in government.

2 Responses to General Election 2015: First Past The Post messes it up again

  1. On 13 May 2015 at 09:26 mrben said:

    For all the banter on Twitter, I too am in favour of electoral reform. Although even with that in place, the vast discrepancy between the political leanings of Scotland versus England are concerning to me.

    If we say (although it could be argued) that the SNP, Labour, LibDems and Green are essentially left-wing parties, and the Conservatives and UKIP are right-wing, then 83.1% of Scotland voted left-wing (in a 71.1% turnout, which is huge), compared to a 55.1% right-wing vote in England.

    For all that devolved parliament has done, it still remains that, even with 100% of the Scottish vote, it would be surprisingly difficult for the SNP to make an impact at Westminster. I believe that one of the reasons for the huge swing toward the SNP following the referendum last year was a huge vote of no-confidence in the major parties to actually properly represent their Scottish constituents on things that matter to Scotland – things like Trident, for example.

    I have, in the past, voted Labour and, more recently, Lib Dem. I felt that the hung parliament situation gave the Lib Dems a huge opportunity, that was subsequently wasted by firstly forming a coalition with the Tories, and secondly by failing to truly temper the unacceptable excesses of a Conservative government. Yes, I’m sure that they did manage that in certain areas. But not enough to retain any credibility, which is why they’re now the 4th party in the UK (almost dropping to 5th behind the DUP!)

    TLDR – I agree with 2/3, but not 1 😉

  2. On 13 May 2015 at 10:22 davee said:

    I agree with your point about fragmentation and that there is a clear difference in opinion between Scotland and England, although I feel that the electoral system exaggerates the real difference and that this could be counter-productive in fixing the problem!

    I’m glad you agree with 2 and 3; I’ll try to persuade you that 1 is the right choice before we reach the next election 😉