Is this the general election result that would usher in electoral reform?

So the polls are narrowing, the Tory lead tottering along within the range of 2-7%. As we all know, the Tories need to poll at around 40% to be sure of a working majority, or else they will have to significantly out-perform their national ratings in the key marginal battlegrounds.

And if they don’t succeed? Well, that will clearly be a disaster for David Cameron’s leadership which has been predicated on the fact that he’s the Tories’ talisman. A hung parliament with a minority Labour/Tory government, perhaps with the tacit consent of the Lib Dems, appears at this stage the most likely outcome.

But what will be the effect on public confidence in the electoral system in the event of a general election result like the one illustrated? This image is taken from UK Polling Report Make your own prediction webpage, and shows one of the crazy results which could be thrown up by the UK’s old-fashioned first-past-the-post voting system.

It shows that the Tories could lead Labour by 37%-31%, and yet still end up the second largest party in the House of Commons. In other words, though the Tories under David Cameron could do better in 2010 than Tony Blair managed to do in 2005, Gordon Brown might be able to carry on as Prime Minister.

What would that mean in actual numbers? If turnout were identical to 2005, the Tories would win just over 10 million votes to Labour’s 8.4 million votes – yet under first-past-the-post Labour would have a parliamentary mandate to form the next government.

Perhaps the British public would be quite comfortable with that situation. Perhaps they would not care that the party with 1.6 million fewer votes would be entitled to continue to govern them. Perhaps they would consider it a price well worth paying in return for retaining the UK’s eccentric voting system.

But perhaps not.

PS: Next Left’s Sunder Katwala looks at how the headlines might play out in the event of such a skewed election result.

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This entry was posted in General Election and Op-eds.


  • Bruce Standing 27th Mar '10 - 10:56am

    I fed in the prediction Con/Lab/Liberal Democrat each with 31%, Others 7%, and got Con 208 seats, Lab 305, LD 106, Others 13.
    Then I put Con 29%, Lab 29%, LD 35%, Others 7%, and got Con 184 seats, Lab 286, LD 149, Others 13

    Looks like FPTP is heavily biased against the Liberal Democrats, or the Prediction webcage is at fault.

  • Bruce, you are correct in your first assumption. It is just a really bad electoral system. On equal shares in FPTP, the split is about 300-200-100 in favour of Labour.

    An interesting experiment is to start from equal shares, then take equally from Labour and the Conservatives and give to Liberal Democrats. You need Lab 25.6 Con 25.6 LD 38.9 to see the Liberal Democrats as the largest party, and much more to get a majority. They each need to lose 4.1%, and LD needs to gain all that 8.4%, to achieve equality of seats, starting out from equality of votes.

    That is why only a massive realignment, as in 1981, can give the party hope of governing without proportional representation.

  • Andrew Suffield 27th Mar '10 - 1:14pm

    I predict the outcome would be a big fuss and flap, followed by an “oh well, it’s over now, we’ll just do something about it in five years”, by which time everybody will have forgotten.

  • Anthony Aloysius St 27th Mar '10 - 1:37pm

    The article seems to be based on the assumption that if the electorate wished to change the electoral system it could do so. The trouble is that only politicians can do that, and of course most MPs have a very strong vested interest in not switching to PR.

  • paul barker 27th Mar '10 - 2:36pm

    The best propaganda for PR would be if we came close to catching Labour in votes, they would get 3 or 4 times as many seats & our demands for fairness would resonate among many non-Liberal voters.
    That sort of result is entirely possible, we have seen how quickly our polling figures can rise when we get some decent coverage.

  • Malcolm Todd 27th Mar '10 - 3:03pm

    Paul: the result you describe is not even as extreme as what happened in 1983: Labour 28.3%, 209 seats; Lib/SDP 26%, 23 seats. And the political result? Zilch. No one (beyond us anoraks) noticed. No one cared. Nor was there any sort of outcry at the last election, when Labour won 55% of the seats with less than 36% of the votes – arguably a much more seriously deficient result. There’s no possibility of change so long as either half of the LabCon two-headed devil has a majority.

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