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|
|East Riding of Yorkshire||Con||39%||81%||33.5226|
|Windsor and Maidenhead||Con||50.6%||89.5%||32.1963|
|Oadby and Wigston||LD||56.1%||81%||30.2594|
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.