New research: One in six seats in the Commons effectively ‘unearned’ under warped voting system

Posted on the 20th December 2019

Voters across the country were shortchanged last week, due to the ‘warped’ nature of our electoral system according to a new briefing by the Electoral Reform Society on the 2019 General Election.

The election saw more than 14.5 million voters effectively ‘unrepresented’ according to the Electoral Reform Society, after 45% of voters across the UK rejected their local MP.

The number reflects the millions who did not vote for the local MP in their area, under Westminster’s ‘one-person-takes-all’ voting system. Under proportional representation, there are far fewer votes thrown on the ‘electoral scrapheap’, the ERS say.

The Society’s 2019 General Election briefing reveals:

  • Unrepresented Voters: Almost 14.5 million people (45.3%) of all UK voters cast their vote for a losing candidate. Voters in Scotland and Northern Ireland fared even worse with the choices of 53.7% of voters in Scotland and 55.1% of voters in Northern Ireland ignored.
  • Parties Unfairly Benefiting: The number of votes needed to elect an MP differed dramatically between parties. On average it took just 38,264 to elect a Conservative MP and 50,835 to elect a Labour one. Strikingly it took 865,697 votes to elect a Green MP and 336,038 for a Liberal Democrat.
  • Minority Winners: Overall 229 of 650 MPs were elected with less than 50% of their constituency’s vote. With five MP’s making it into Parliament with less than 36% of the votes cast.
  • Disproportionate Results: Across the UK, one in six seats were effectively ‘unearned’ due to the gap between how people voted and the number of MPs from each party elected. In Scotland this rises to one in three, with – for example – the vast majority of Labour votes going unrepresented. Overall, this election saw a return to high levels of disproportionality, with representation failing to fairly reflect how people vote.
  • Small Margins of Victory: Under the winner takes all First Past the Post system some seats were gained with time margins of victory. There were fewer than 200 votes between winning and losing in five constituencies this election. Fermanagh & South Tyrone was won with a margin of just 57 votes.
  • Safe Seats: Before the election the ERS correctly predicted the outcome in 316 ‘safe seats’. ERS research before the election found that on average it was 42 years since a UK constituency last changed hands with 192 seats being held by the same party since at least 1945.

UK-wide, the Conservatives largely benefited from the discrepancy between votes and seats, winning a majority (56.2%) of seats on a minority (43.6%) of the vote. An increase of 7.4 percentage point increase in seats on just a 1.3 percentage point increase in votes.

The briefing also assesses the registration surge that took place during the election, the scale of online advertising/digital campaigning by parties, and tactical voting.

Dr Jess Garland, Director of Policy and Research, Electoral Reform Society said:

“The dust is still settling from last week’s General Election but it’s already clear to see where the current system has failed voters and warped the results.

“From millions of voices ignored by wasted votes, to some MPs scraping over the line with as little as 35% of the vote of their constituents, the results of last week’s election reads less like the outcomes of a successful democracy and more like a list of symptoms – the outcomes of an ailing electoral system.

“People will not tolerate these failings forever. This has to be the last election under Westminster’s broken voting system.

“It is time for real reform to end the mass disenfranchisement we see under First Past the Post and for all parties to come together and get behind a fairer, proportional voting system where every voter’s voice is heard.”

A spokesperson added that the voting system was ‘not only bust, but bankrupt’, with a return to ‘wildly disproportionate results’.


Notes to Editors

Embargoed report link:

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