The best of the worst of 2011's local elections #2 - Excessive Majorities

5 Apr 2012

In the second of our Best of the Worst of 2011's Local elections series we examine the First Past the Post systems limitless capacity to deliver extremely distorted results.


In the 2011 elections in Eastleigh, the Lib Dems won 100% of the available seats on only 46.9% of the vote. In Bournemouth, the Conservatives won nearly 90% of the seats on only 38.6% of the vote.


Now all you armchair psephologists out there will probably know that disproportionality is measured using the Least Squares Index (also known as the Gallagher Index), which measures disproportionality between distributions of votes and seats.  Michael Gallagher, professor of politics at Trinity College, Dublin, has calculated this index for national parliamentary elections going back to 1945.


The most disproportionate general election result was Labour’s 2001 victory, where the party won 63% of seats on 40.7% of the national vote.


Sadly the 2011 local elections delivered 143 results, which were more disproportionate than Labour’s 2001 general election victory.


2011’s top 25 least proportional results:

  Best performing  Party Votes Secured Seats Won Least Squares
Eastleigh LD 46.9% 100% 43.6905
Shepway Con 50.5% 95.7% 36.0531
Bournemouth Con 38.6% 83.3% 35.8296
Stoke-on-Trent Lab 37.3 81% 34.8363
East Riding of Yorkshire Con 39% 81% 33.5226
Rotherham Lab 54.1% 95.2% 33.4403
Leicester Lab 55% 96.3% 33.3374
Havant Con 59.3% 100% 33.1343
East Hertfordshire Con 52.4% 97% 32.9083
Waverley Con 58.5% 98.2% 32.8743
Stevenage Lab 46.8% 84.6% 32.3444
Windsor and Maidenhead Con 50.6% 89.5% 32.1963
Bracknell Forest Con 57.5% 95.2% 31.945
Liverpool Lab 63.1% 86.7% 31.7626
South Staffordshire Con 47.2% 86.7% 31.7513
West Oxfordshire Con 55.0% 93.8% 31.116
Ashfield Lab 36.5% 72.7% 30.6557
Newcastle-under-Lyme Lab 37.4% 74.4% 30.5299
Manchester Lab 62.4% 100% 30.5157
Doncaster Lab 46.2% 81% 30.3896
Oadby and Wigston LD 56.1% 81% 30.2594
Maldon Con 54.6% 82.4% 30.04
Central Bedfordshire Con 47% 83.1% 29.7272
Wokingham Con 52.4% 88.9% 29.6094


In most of these 143 councils one party was given overall executive authority, despite the majority of voters opposing them.


Disproportional results inflict long-term damage on local democracy because they damage multi-party competition. As Vernon Bogdanor put it earlier this week:

A permanent one-party local authority is almost as offensive as a permanent one-party state.

And that’s because local parties need to win seats in order to remain viable, and these excessive majorities stifle dissenting voices. This can lead to the development of personal ‘fiefdoms’, where the leaders of dominant parties enjoy untrammeled control over their local authorities. Precisely this state of affairs encouraged the Scottish Labour Party to change the voting system for Scottish local elections.


The 2011results show that there is a strong case for making the same move in England. 2012’s results will inevitably build the case for change.



For more about last year’s local elections see English Local Elections 2011, Report and Analysis, by Andy White and Magnus Smidak.



5 Responses to The best of the worst of 2011's local elections #2 - Excessive Majorities

Electoral Reform Society's picture
Electoral Refor... 10 Apr 2012

We'd agree that compulsory voting isn't the answer to this problem.

Voters need a reason to turn out and vote. They need to know their vote
can make a difference.

Many people question the powers local government has in the UK. But thanks to the FPTP voting system it's clear most votes don't have value.

James 7 Apr 2012

Compulsory voting is a terrible idea. If people don't want to vote or aren't informed enough to do so, they shouldn't be forced - enough people already vote without much thought for who or why.

Alex Scott 24 Apr 2012

If anything, the level of engagement of most of the public is a case for a nominal poll tax rather than compulsory voting. Currently, there are many people who turn up and cast their vote essentially at random, or because their family has always voted like that, or who use local elections to beat up national Parties over which the local results have no influence. How many, I wonder, would continue to do so if it cost even £1? By having to pay even a nominal amount, voters would be encouraged to find out what they're paying for, and the die-hard ignorant and apathetic would be discouraged from distorting the result.

Thomas Winwood 7 Apr 2012

Are you trying to argue that the reason for skewed election results is the only people voting are diehard supporters? Compulsory voting doesn't solve any of the problems of first-past-the-post systems because it doesn't enable people to vote any more fairly - 30% of votes are as good as 100% if they're chosen on the basis of tactical considerations rather than genuine expressions of support.

Cynthia Matthias 7 Apr 2012

Isn't it about time that voting was made compulsory