9 things you need to know about the 2019 General Election

Josiah Mortimer, former Head of Communications

Posted on the 24th December 2019

You probably heard a lot about the number of seats parties won (and lost) in December’s General Election. What was less prominent was just how poorly the results reflected how people actually voted.

The ERS have been digging through the numbers and made some startling findings when it comes to Westminster’s warped voting system. We’ve revealed the semi-random results it churns out.

Here’s some highlights (or lowlights) you have to know…

1. The Conservatives won a big majority… despite only increasing their vote share by 1.3% on 2017.

That’s because Westminster’s winner-takes-all system actively rewards a lack of choice.

Left-wingers and Remainers had more choice of parties to vote for – therefore their vote was more divided. In contrast, the Conservatives’ and pro-Brexit support was more united (the Brexit Party stood aside in all seats the Conservative Party won in 2017) and ‘efficient’ – meaning they didn’t need a huge vote surge to win.

Under First Past the Post, it’s not the number of votes you get nationally that matters, it’s how effective your targeting is. Rather than piling up votes in safe seats, the Conservatives managed to increase their vote sufficiently in those marginal seats they needed to win.

2. Smaller parties got crushed – as usual.

Nearly 900,000 votes for the Green Party across the UK equated to exactly…one Green MP. Unlike the Conservatives, the Green vote was spread out, meaning that the hundreds of thousands of votes across the country that didn’t secure the one winner in each seat could be ignored.  The Brexit Party too secured hundreds of thousands of votes and zero representation.

In contrast, it took just 25,000 or so votes to elect an SNP MP. As SNP votes are concentrated in a smaller area of the UK, First Past the Post gave them a boost. (Thankfully, the SNP back moving to a fair, proportional electoral system where seats match votes).

3. The ERS predicted with 100% accuracy the result in the majority (56%) of England’s seats – 300 of them – before polling day.

For the 16 million-plus voters in these seats, it may have felt like there was barely an election happening at all.

4. Around 14.5 million voters are now unrepresented across the UK (i.e. they didn’t pick the one winner in each seat.)

That’s a marked contrast to proportional representation through the Single Transferable Vote (STV). With STV, if your first choice can’t win, your second choice is taken instead, and a number of local MPs are elected – rather than one party taking it all.

(You can see how many voters went unrepresented by region in the election here).

5. Nearly one in three people (30%) are likely to have voted tactically, according to BMG polling for the ERS.

That means millions of people were forced to try and game the system. Often, the many tactical voting sites contradicted each other, changed as the election went on, or meant people were talking about electoral tactics instead of actual policies and principles. Winner-takes-all voting totally warped the debate – as well as the results.

6. Safe seat voters got left out.

Voters in swing seats reported receiving far more leaflets than those in Britain’s hundreds of safe seats, according to research for the ERS.

Frankly, it’s seen as simply not worthwhile for some parties to campaign in ultra-safe seats. That means ignoring voters is hard-wired into Westminster’s rotten system.

7. The election result might look quite different if seats matched votes and everyone’s voice was heard.

We modelled the result under the system used for European Parliament elections (d’Hondt), and found that the Conservatives would still have been the largest party – they got the most votes. But they would not have an undeserved majority of seats, and parties that were penalised for having votes spread out across the country would have fair representation.

While the d’Hondt system isn’t our preferred choice (the ERS back the Single Transferable Vote used in Scottish local elections), it’s a useful comparison to Westminster’s warped results.

8. One in six seats in the Commons effectively ‘unearned’ under Westminster’s warped voting system. 

December’s election saw a return to deeply disproportionate results – meaning that some seats were won unfairly.

For some areas, the figures are particularly stark – with results in Scotland proving particularly unrepresentative of voters.

9. Tens of thousands have now signed our petition calling for PR since the election was called.

We think all parties should get on board and work together for real reform. Most parties do, but the ‘Big Two’ now have to realise they can’t rely on people ‘lending’ them their votes forever to avoid ‘splitting the vote’.

People feel disillusioned, alienated and increasingly frustrated with politics – and it’s no wonder why. That has to be channelled into something positive – to rebuild trust in politics and ensure Westminster works for all of us.

Because one thing is clear: the system isn’t just broke, it’s bankrupt. As the use of fairer systems in Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and most developed democracies has shown, we can do better than this.

Sign our petition for proportional representation

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