Opinion: A Penny For Your Vote? – the costs of winning votes

Votes for cashThe Electoral Reform Society has released a paper entitled A Penny For Your Vote?, which explores the connection between politics and money. It will come as no surprise to most Liberal Democrats that the equation between cash and seats is out of kilter. But the hard numbers contained within the paper may still come as a shock.

The amount of money spent winning a single vote ranges from £3.07 down to 14 pence dependent on where in the country you live. The disparity between these two figures equates to the small number being 22 times paltrier than the large one. This is because, as most of you will have surmised already, the amount of cash that parties pour into a seat at a general election is mostly down to how marginal it is thought to be. In other words, does the party who holds the seat at the time of the election expect to have to seriously fight to keep it? And does one or more of the parties not in control of the seat have a reasonable expectation of winning it? The answer in most constituencies is sadly no, to both questions.

Out of 650 Westminster seats, only 85 are now considered marginal. If this number seems terrifying then keep in mind that most psephologists are of the opinion that this figure is only going to shrink in the coming decades. So the gap between what is spent in marginal seats and what is spent in safe seats is only destined to get even wider. The most likely result of this trend is that more and more money is going to be concentrated in fewer and fewer seats. Which means the government of the day is going to be decided by fewer and fewer people.

So what is the solution to this problem? There are essentially two things that could turn the tide on this quandary. The first is to sort out funding for political parties. This is an active debate but an intensely politicised one. The Tories want to close down union support for the Labour party, Labour want to figure out how to stem the tide of big business funds going into Conservative coffers. The recent collapse of the cross party talks around this was depressing. However, with Ed Miliband’s St Bride’s speech, new life has been breathed into the topic.

Secondly, a change to the Westminster voting system to reduce the number of safe seats would help greatly, although many will shoot back immediately that the public rejected electoral reform, for Westminster at least, during the 2011 referendum. Still, one has to wonder if the debate will come back to the fore, perhaps this time with a PR system in mind, if there is another hung parliament come 2015 and again in 2020 – which the shrinking number of actively marginal seats makes ever more likely.

* Nick Tyrone is a liberal writer. He blogs at nicktyrone.com and is an associate director at CentreForum.

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One Comment

  • David Evans 23rd Aug '13 - 4:41pm

    “… if there is another hung parliament come 2015 and again in 2020 – which the shrinking number of actively marginal seats makes ever more likely.”

    An interesting comment, but I really would like to see some hard analysis to support this conjecture before I would accept it as anything more than wishful thinking on someone’s part.

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