Move House for Electoral Reform! Facts behind our April Fools

Electoral Reform Society,

Posted on the 6th April 2016

Whilst the day-to-day effects of First Past the Post for communities around Britain is closer to a tragedy – for one day a year we attempt, along with everyone else, to spread our message using light comedy. Our April Fools Day post in 2015 went with the message of ERS Say Everything Is Fine whilst listing all the ludicrous effects of First Past the Post – an electoral system great for 1st April, not the 7th May.

This year we announced a new strategy: if everyone would simply move house, we could have a proportional parliament. Whilst obviously a ludicrous suggestion (especially our requirement for floating voters to literally live in boats, this is one that would actually work.

As First Past the Post is a winner takes all system, where voters live can have a huge impact on how many seats a party wins and who gets to form the government. Any party with geographically dispersed supporters, such as the Liberal Democrats, the Greens or UKIP, lacks the concentration needed to win as many seats as they deserve. Whilst any party with geographically concentrated supporters, get more than they should.

How many people would have to move house to change the 2015 election result? It’s fairly easy to work out – with a majority of 12, the Tories would have to lose seven seats to no longer be the single largest party. If at any point between 2010 and 2015, 28 Labour voters moved from the Knowsley constituency in Merseyside to the Gower constituency in Wales, then Labour would have kept Gower; and Knowsley, with a majority of 34,655 would have remained exactly the same. The residents of Knowsley could also have changed the whole election if 42 voters moved to Derby North, 166 to Croydon Central, 238 to Vale of Clwyd, 379 to Bury North, 423 to Morley & Outwood and 524 to Plymouth Sutton & Davenport.

This would be enough to mean the Conservatives would no longer be the largest party, but how many people would have to move to make parliament proportional? That is very hard to work out. For our April Fools we imagined that each constituency would vote 100% for their designated party. A turnout of 30,683,892 (66.1%) divided between 650 constituencies gave us an average of 47,206 voters per constituency. With 3,881,099 voters, UKIP voters could entirely fill 82 constituencies, the Liberal Democrats 51, and the Conservatives 240.

But with First Past the Post, you don’t need to win every vote, just one more than the second place candidate. With multiple parties splitting the vote, you can get results like the SDLP winning South Belfast with just 24.5% of the vote. This is where it gets very complicated. As we showed in our pre-election report The Lottery Election, tiny changes in voting can have big impacts on the end result. First Past the Post is supposed to represent local communities, but it actually just represents the single largest party in an area, no matter their amount of support or that of their opponents.

There are better ways of running elections which mean we get local MPs representing local communities, but we end up with a proportional parliament. In Ireland, they use a system called the Single Transferable Vote, where a team of MPs are elected to represent the spread of political opinion in a city or county.

It’s time we caught up with the world and got rid of an electoral system that has become a laughing stock.

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