Nail in the Coffin

Nail in the coffin
11 May 2015

Well, it’s all over. All the months of campaigning have resulted in an election outcome which few predicted. It was a good night for the bookies, and a bad night for the pollsters – but it was an even worse night for our broken voting system. Because one thing is clear: Thursday was the nail in the coffin for First Past the Post.

Our analysis has shown something that will come as little surprise to those who saw the numbers – it was the most disproportionate result in British history.

To put it into perspective, here’s how many votes it took to elect each MP:

For the DUP, it took 23,000 votes to elect and MP. 

UKIP and the Greens received five million votes – and got just two seats between them. The (pro-reform) SNP got around 1.5m votes and 56 seats, while the Democratic Unionist Party got fewer than 200,000 votes yet the same number of MPs as the 2.5m vote-strong Lib Dems. Something is seriously wrong here.

Not only that, but most people’s votes were essentially wasted. Of the almost 31 million people took part on May 7th, the votes of 15.4 million people didn't help anyone get elected. That’s 50% of voters who don't have someone they want in Westminster, making half of voters feel unrepresented. That doesn’t sound like democracy to most people.

The reverse of this is that many of the MPs who did win failed to get the support of most voters. Out of 650 winning candidates, 322 (49%) got less than 50% of the vote. With less than half their electorate backing them, that’s a fairly weak mandate for half the Commons.

How would it be any different under a fair voting system? The answer is – a lot. The Conservatives would still be the largest party, but 37% should never equal 51% of seats in a real democracy. Under a pure D’Hondt system of proportional representation, here’s what Parliament would look like:

So it’s a lot different to the surprising result Thursday produced. Yet as unpredictable as this election was, we managed to call the outcome in 56% of seats – getting 363 of our 368 pre-election seat predictions correct (a 98% accuracy rate). It’s a pretty worrying prospect that we knew most of the results well before polling day.

It’s down to our out-dated voting system, where small single-member constituencies lead to safe seats held by the same party for generation after generation. As a result, the election was decided in a handful of ‘marginal’ swing seats – where votes effect the outcome as much as 30 times more than in safe seats.

There was some progress though. The ERS also estimated that 192 women would be elected to Parliament back in April. 191 were elected on Thursday – so not a bad prediction. That means female representation has gone up from 23% in the last Parliament to nearly 30% now, putting us 36th in the world rankings. Yet there’s still a long way to go before equality, especially with ‘safe seats’ being largely held by incumbent male MPs. A fair voting system would open these seats up to competition from people from more diverse backgrounds.

Either way, electoral reform is back on the agenda. Over 110,000 people have signed our petition calling for electoral reform over the weekend – over 80,000 in the first 24 hours of it launching. We've had over 500 new members in less than a week - and the numbers keep going up. And we've had streams of media coverage, thousands of new Facebook likes, thousands of retweets and an endless flow of emails, messages and donations from people seeing the need for fair votes after Thursday's result.

One thing is clear – we can’t go on like this. So keep your eyes out over the coming week for more campaigning, sign our petition and join the movement for reform. In the wake of Thursday’s shockingly unfair result, let’s build a better democracy together.

Join the Electoral Reform Society today

Sign up for updates from the ERS 


37 Responses to Nail in the Coffin

Debbie Jellings 11 May 2015

Thanks Josiah, for explaining my disappointment/despair and showing what the 'real' picture would look like. We had just moved and were not allowed to vote. Too late to register. Gutted!

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Pinkybum 11 May 2015

One cannot categorically say that the reults would have been the same under a PR system. I would have thought a very large number of people had voted strategically. If the system was known to be PR I would have expected a much larger vote for parties that are considered minority parties roght now.

jim 13 May 2015

And also a larger turn out, particularly in safe constituencies. Whether you support or oppose the party that is certain to receive most votes, your individual vote would suddenly be make some difference to the make up of the government. As it is any given individual rationally may as well not vote in these constituencies.

William Singleton 11 May 2015

There is often concern in this country about the lack of democracy in other countries. Wars are fought with the agenda or subplot of "fighting for democracy."  We need to reform our system towards a functional representative democracy.
The current system is staggeringly unrepresentative and only worked in an essentially two party system. Smaller parties must have seats proportional to their share of the national vote.

Jeremy Hicks 12 May 2015

Not only are wars fought in the name of democracy, but the two countries (the UK and the USA) that have been at the forefront of imposing democracy on others by violence are in fact the ones which have the most dysfunctional democratic systems. Both have massively rigged electoral systems whose aim is to create and maintain a two-party state - which is only one small step better than the one-party states they deplore.

Barry 12 May 2015

Exactly.  I am normally proud to be British but when I see my country going around the planet and imposing democracy on countries that either don't want it or don't understand it when our 'masters' won't allow us to have a REAL democracy at home then I feel ashamed.

David Jones 11 May 2015

Is it at all possible that the current ssystem is a breach of the UK Human Rights Act, which imposes a duty on governments to provide a free and fair system. While it is undoubtedly free, surely these results (and many similar others in the past in which a minority party was handed a majority holding in the legislature) cannot be described as fair. Is this a case for the European Court of Human Rights?

Lisa 12 May 2015

Perhaps that's why the conservatives are trying to scrap the Human Rights Act?

Barry 12 May 2015

Wouldn't be at all surprised with these neo-fascists in power. Someone,  needs to hurry-up and see whether action against this archaic, patently unfair and undemocratic sick frauludlent joke of an electoral system can be taken with regard to this Human Rights Act or whether similar action can be taken by going to the Council of Europe or the UN.

Barry 12 May 2015

No doubt that is the reason with these UNELECTED neo-fascists in power! Someone, needs to see if action can be taken with regard to this scandal under the Human Rights Act or by going to the UN or Council of Europe.

Rowan Beton 11 May 2015

Thank you so much for describing why I feel so angry and demoralised about the 2015 election result. Wherever I go, I imagine that of the people that I meet - that 7 out of 10 of those people are not represented in Government. WE ABSOLUTELY HAVE TO DO BETTER THAN THAT! A fairer system of voting must now be put on the Agenda of all political parties.

Jason Rutland 12 May 2015

What I don't get at all why are not all party's available in all areas i.e. I had no green party or SNP etc expect the usual party's i.e.labour UKIP Lib Dems and Conservatives I would voted for just about anyone so long as the conservative were not voted back into office to my utter which they were, no thanks in part to the SNP yet they didn't want the conservative to back in power which they are due to SNP own stupidity.

Yet another system that is broken and needs reforming & fixing !!

Richard Holmes 13 May 2015

I would respectfully point out that the SNP include proportional representation in their manifesto, and that even if everyone in Scotland had voted Labour, we would still have a Tory majoprity government.

jonby 12 May 2015

Thanks for clearly highlighting the unbelievable disparity between seats gained and number of votes, which confirms research I had done myself. I was sickened by the recent election result and am even more sickened by the knowledge that the incumbent government will do everything in their power to avoid any move from the current system, which of course is a key factor in their strength.

Amanda Mackie 12 May 2015

I have said for many many years that our entire political system is broken. It may of started with good men and good intent but those days are over now it is in the hands of bad men with bad intent.
We do not need to follow the Americans either their awful system, mindset and ethos. There are other ways.

Jeremy Hicks 12 May 2015

7th May 2015 is very likely to be the last time I ever cast a vote in a first-past-the-post election. Living as I do in a safe Conservative seat (for Westminster and the borough and county councils), I have effectively been disenfranchised since I moved here thirty years ago; but I have stupidly clung to the idea that my vote matters. No longer; from now on, and until the electoral system is changed to offer me a meaningful choice, I will still bother to go to the polling station or request a postal vote, but I will write "Spoiled for choice" across the ballot paper.

Jeremy Hicks 12 May 2015

I did some analysis of my own of the numbers, and have come up with some rather different results. According to the data I have (taken from the BBC Election website), a total of 30,697,860 votes were cast on Thursday, of which 15,339.956 were for candidates who were elected, and 15,357,904 for candidates who weren't.
If this is correct, it means that 49.97% of those who voted got an MP of their choice, and 50.03% didn't. That is still scandalous, but it isn't as dramatic as your 37%/63% split. I'd be interested to know how you arrived at your figures - mine might be inaccurate, in which case I'd like to know where I went wrong. Or did you include spoiled ballots or something?

Alexander Kipos 12 May 2015

>That’s 63% of voters who backed a candidate that didn’t win, making the vast majority of voters feel unrepresented.
It's okay for up to 50% of voters to vote for a losing candidate and still call it democracy.
The interesting figure in FPTP is the number who voted for a candidate who neither came first nor second. This is the number that were truly disenfranchised and whose votes were not counted. Do you have the number on that?

Jeremy Hicks 12 May 2015

> It's okay for up to 50% of voters to vote for a losing candidate and still call it democracy.
I don't think it is. Why should someone who got 50.000001% of the vote get 100% of the seats?
That's why the most important aspect of any electoral reform must be multi-member constituencies. Whether the seats in those constituencies are allocated via STV as in Ireland, or proportionally as in Denmark, is a matter of detail. But we have to scrap "winner takes all" and acknowledge the right of the minority to have their voice heard too.

Barry 13 May 2015

The most important thing is no government should be able to take power on its own unless it has EARNT the right to do so like the Tories did in 1931 when they obtained 55% of the national vote. There needs to be a much closer relationship between the numbers of votes a party gets and the number of seats a party receives in parliament for this effort.. Our present system is fundamentally broken because it fails to do this and last Thursday it effectively threw away into the nearest dusbin the 3.8 million votes of UKIP supporters and the 1.1 million votes the Greens got.
It's also broken because the value of your vote is in no way the same or even roughly equal. My vote in the ultra-safe Tory seat of Brentwood and Ongar has effectively no value at all compared to a vote cast in the constituency of Thurrock which is a mere ten to twenty miles away. Why should my vote be accorded by the system with less value PURELY on account of where I live. It's a nonsense!

Ian 19 May 2015

The quote is actually "50% of voters who backed a candidate that didn’t win, making the vast majority of voters feel unrepresented". While agreeing with most of what is being said here, I don't think 50% constitutes a "vast majority". 63% is the proportion of those who voted who backed a PARTY that didn't win, and yes, that is a disappointing majority. FPTP might have some justification if all Commons votes were free and there was no whipping at all, but that would make a nonsense of the party system, manifestos, policies, etc. Therefore we need PR.

David Rawson 12 May 2015

This election featured a massive surge for Tories that is unbelievable. There is only one explanation. As the famous election lawyer said fraud is being perpetrated on an industrial scale.
Ballot box security is shambolic. We have an uncontrolled 'security service.'
People in Scotland are convinced the referendum was rigged. When the establishment wanted the nats to do well, guess what? They did. Electoral Reform is irrelevant if the Spooks establish a one party state.   

Ash 16 May 2015

Having been involved on a small scale with polling stations and ballot counting I find this sort of conspiracy theory laughable. There are many checks by many different people at different stages of the electoral process in each constituency. Are you really suggesting that MI5 are involved in a massive nationwide covert operation to keep the Tories in power? Comments like this only serve to discredit the issue of electoral reform.

P.S. I live in a safe Conservative constituency, where my vote has not influenced the outcome for twenty years.


Barry 12 May 2015

I have signed your pettion but, sadly, I can't see what good it will do. We now have unrepentent and unelected neo-fascists in power who have complete contempt for the very basics of democracy. I'm afraid, the only way I can see Britain ever getting a genuinely fair and democratic voting system is by using the same methods as the Suffragettes ie civil disobedience and in the end (very sadly) violence. The people with whom we are dealing here don't understand peaceful methods.

graham Jeavons 12 May 2015

I like some of your ideas however there are many things that need changing besides the polotics, Wages are so unfair for so many, all wages should be the same and set at around £15 per hour and some other way of giving people recognition for what they do for society should be implemented, we cannot have one person doing 40 hours and getting minimum wage whilst another gets £1000 + for the same amount of work this is just nonsence, most of the low paid jobs are more detremental to our health than the higher top paid jobs. The other thing that needs sorting out before we have polit5ical reform is money, bonusus, quango's, the banks, large companies and monopolies and much more, I belive if we don't sort these things out then our society has no future as does thye rest of the world. If we can get control of trading in all it's forms then we can control the drug barrons, the terrorists and any other threat, if we remove the power of money crime will go down, poverty will end, ideas can be shared freely and the whole world will be a better place. I like some of your ideas but until someone comes up with a way to do the above then I will not be joining any party

Stephen Harbron 12 May 2015

Perhaps UKIP, The Liberal Democrats and the Green party should send their missing total of 166 MPs to parliament when the new MPs are sworn in.

Barry 14 May 2015

That would be a good idea. It would provide visible proof to people who find it difficult to understand this subject (and yes, let's face it, discussion about the effects of different electoral systems can be complicated) of how the system threw away the votes of millions last week and what the House of Commons SHOULD look like IN REAL LIFE.

Barry 12 May 2015

It's a shame that the Electoral Reform Society participated in that referendum on the Alternative Vote in 2011. You wouldn't believe the amount of people I have had to correct on Facebook and on the web more generally who think we have already had a referendum on this vitally important matter of a Proportional Representation electoral system. There is a A HUGE AMOUNT of misunderstanding out there on this subject.
I suggest the Electoral Reform Society in how it interacts with the public make it more plain that is has done so up too now that the vote in 2011 DIDN'T INVOLVE A PR OPTION.

Richard Holmes 14 May 2015

Totally agree, Barry; I have lost count of the number of times that I have had to point out on forums that the AV system offered in the referendum is NOT a fair and proportional system.

Wayne brocklehurst 12 May 2015

Great for Electoral reform, as long as Digital is introduced, That can only lead to better things, Government, Local Authorities are already connected, we just need access, your own issues and updates must be heard, for EU and the rest of the world, Them and only then we will see real changes to power, greed, shared growth, powers that be, will try and stop it

Richard Holmes 13 May 2015

Not only is First Past The Post unfair in that the total number of MPs elected is not representative of how votes were cast, but it is also unfair in that it influences how people vote, in that it makes them less likely to vote for a 'minor' party perceived to stand little chance of winning their seat, and more likely to vote tactically for the 'least worst' option instead.
How many more votes would the Greens have received under a fair and proportional system, I wonder?
Please spread the word about the MAKE SEATS MATCH VOTES petition.

Barry 14 May 2015

Indeed.  It's a system that strongly influences how a person casts their vote let along deprives minor parties and some major ones too (as we have seen in Scotland) of their just representation. No remotely sane electoral system should have that inhibiting influence.

John 15 May 2015

Is the ElectoralReform Societygoing to calculate the resultsunder specificelectoral systemsie STV and MMR? 
I think you´ll find Greens don´t do well under either type. Next elction UKIP won´t be a factor. Return to 2 party system in England anyway.

Nigel Baldwin 17 May 2015

The more people notice the defects in FPTP, the less credible the present way of voting will become.  People will see that elections in this country will have the same credibility as they had in the old East Germany.

Alan Dowling 19 May 2015

It would appear that the Tories were not voted into power in this election. It is clear on the share of the vote in many constituencies that the Tories did not gain many votes. What has happened is that the electorate have voted out the non-Tory sitting member..
It is very evident in the South West where the Lib Dem vote went down, the Tory vote stayed basically unchanged and the vote for the other parties went up. The net result being that the Conservatives gained the seat by default.
In several constituencies where the Conservative was the sitting member with a clear majority, their share of the vote dipped but they retained the seat.

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