Analyse Votes, Not Seats

Most the commentariate – as usual – focuses on seats delivered by the elections, and not the actual votes cast. Even those who support voting reform (e.g. Polly Toynbee in The Guardian) continue to use seats, as a proxy for actual support, as the main basis for their analysis.

The biggest historical fallacy in British politics was generated by this sort of thinking: that the post-war Labour government ran out of steam, and was defeated by the Tories as the “affluent society” took off in 1951. Actually, Labour won the popular vote in 1951 with a far larger share than they got in the “landslide” of 1945.

There are several examples in the 2011 elections of similar misconceptions – e.g. the SNP has smashed Labour in their Scottish heartlands. Actually, the Labour share of the vote in Scotland was almost exactly the same as at the General Election last year and actually increased in some of the places they lost to SNP. What changed was the complete collapse of the LD vote and its transfer to the SNP (incidentally the same thing happened in 1951, with the Liberal vote collapsing and in that case going over wholesale to the Tories).

The reality is that Labour are overall on 37%, up by 8% since last May, the Tories down from 36% to 35%, and the LDs down from 23% to 15% (-8%). So there has been a big swing from LDs to Labour. In a General Election Labour would win a 40 seat majority on these results. And on past form, many of the SNP and SNP-borrowed LD votes in Scotland would go to Labour in a GE.

The results of May 2011 will undoubtedly feed speculation about an early General Election, with Tory commentators already calling on Cameron to ‘cut and run’. On these figures, and the current electoral boundaries, that would be a big gamble. Cameron will only take it if the polls start to look better and/or they can foresee major problems that mean their “sunny uplands” of 2015 aren’t going to materialise.  And of course, it may not be his choice if the LDs implode, which is entirely possible after these elections and the AV debacle.

Returning to Polly Toynbee who asks “is this the start of a Tory hegemony”? The answer is simple, on these figures – no. Even with the forthcoming manipulation of the electoral system and the defeat of AV, with only about a third of the vote the Tories will struggle to ever rule alone again, as will Labour. Ironically, one of the killer arguments used against AV – that it will lead to permanent coalitions – may be with us anyway.

Polly does make one intriguing suggestion – that Labour should embrace open primaries as a way of building a new progressive alliance. That would be one way of fundamentally changing the electoral system which doesn’t need legislation. Interesting.

3 thoughts on “Analyse Votes, Not Seats

  1. There is a basic fact about our current system which analysis like this deliberately ignores. We have a constituency-based (or ward-based in the case of council elections) system. It is not proportional. Use of national share as tool for political analysis is purely lazy journalism and idle comment. You might as well seek to use volume to measure temperature.

  2. If Andrew had read my other posts on electoral systems he would have seen I don’t just use national shares of the vote but constituency analysis too. Perhaps he could explain how electing an MP who gets only 26% of the votes cast – as has happened – is in any sense democratic? Which is incidentally why the Tories don’t use FPTP in internal elections, ever. If they did David Davis would be their leader, not Cameron.

  3. In terms of healthy democratic practice the AV referendum was a disastrous and horrific failure. Neither the Yes or No campaigns come out of this with any credit. It was turned into a dirty business that saw the campaigners fail to educate in place of which they did much to indoctrinate, cheat, misguide, mislead, distract and destroy the real needs of an increased diverse electorate.

    The Liberal Democrat leadership in its haste to share power and gain cabinet posts take much of the blame for they in the process forgot to adhere to the key principal upon which many have justified voting for them on over the years following the forging of the Alliance with the SDP.

    That principal being to essentially stick to an uncompromising just and fair (‘just and fair’ being the cornerstone of the support given to them by ‘their sort of people’) position on certain key issues in favour of the people rather than the self interests of the cosy Westminster club; in this case a required continued commitment to the need to introduce use of the single transferable vote used in multi member constituencies for UK Parliamentary elections. A long standing requirement ofso many Lib Dem supporters, and the one system in this country the rest of the electorate was and is likely to seriously consider given the chance.

    So many citizens who would have supported this option in a referendum were indeed so angered by the naive and misguided wheeler dealing that lead to the rubbish choice that was offered that, along with similar anger against them and their actions as coalition partners on a couple of other key issues (that caused such devastation to their elected ranks in the local election contest), that they voted NO to AV while wanting STV. Not every NO vote to AV was a YES vote to FPP.

    For its part the NO case made against AV was worthy only of a regime operating in the worst sort of third world banana republic.

    A questionable cartel of interests including such as senior politicians, media moguls and serious reactionaries made sure the process of choosing between AV and FPP was not one that led to a decision based on education and enlightenment but rather on scare mongering and downright lying.

    The Prime Minister made himself party to offering the people this squalid little third rate choice as he along with Nick Clegg chose to describe AV as an alternative to our outdated and unrepresentative FPP system. How cynical, and no choice at all really. It is ironic that Mr Cameron actually came second in the first round of voting for the Tory Party leadership; winning through under AV on second preferences! A man clearly happy to bite off the hand that promoted him, and to deny to others what he is happy to have gained from.

    The PM may feel stronger and more empowered as a result of the overwhelming rejection by the people of AV but he makes a serious error if he does so. Not only Nick Clegg’s credibility but also his own has been seriously damaged by way of the processing of this referendum.

    The outcome for the people is that significant numbers of people in this country are left disempowered and aggrieved and more angry and disillusioned than before; and that has to be a significant worry for those who ask us to trust in the democratic process as it operates in the UK. What has been proven in this sorry affair is that it is not under the stewardship of this government worthy of such trust.

    So there you have it; a view albeit obviously of little worth to this ruling elite from outside the cesspool that is Westminster politics.

    Reg Barritt

    99 Hartington Street

    Chester CH4 7BP


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s