Nail in the Coffin of Westminster’s voting system

Katie Ghose, former Chief Executive

Posted on the 11th 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.

Read more posts...

Conservative manifesto: Missing pledges to improve our democracy

The launch of the Conservative manifesto yesterday was conspicuously light on democratic policy with little mention by way of reforms desperately needed to strengthen our democracy.   Voter ID Policy The Conservatives made only one proposal...

Posted 13 Jun 2024

Rishi Sunak