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May 07 2010

I was up for Evan Harris

This is a graph that shows you the number of seats (actual seats) each of the three main parties will get*, and the number of seats (proportional seats) they would get under a pure proportional system. You notice for the Labour and Conservative parties the number of seats they actually get is more than the number of seats in proportion to their votes, for the Liberal Democrats the opposite is true and by a very substantial margin.

When Liberal Democrats went into the polling stations yesterday they were given a single polling card, their Labour and Conservative comrades had three. Look them in the eye, ask them:

What is it about you that makes your vote three times more powerful, three times heavier, three times more important than mine?

What is special about you but not about me?

Explain to me how this is fair.

Explain to me how this is democracy.

To put it another way, every Labour or Conservative seat requires about 33,000 votes to win, a Liberal Democrat one requires 100,000 votes. We are the Great Ignored.

We have come to accept this inequity, it’s happened in every election since the early 80’s. As a country we just accept it as part of the way things are. It’s the defining feeling of being a Liberal Democrat, seeing the overall share of our vote creep up election by election and receiving the same feeble, disproportionate harvest in seats. The sinking feeling in the middle of the night that, no, of course there has been no breakthrough. It’s not because we perform poorly, it is because we have one polling card each, the others have three.

In 1997 the defining moment was Michael Portillo losing his seat to Stephen Twigg. My defining moment for this election was seeing Evan Harris lose his Oxford West and Abingdon seat. “I was up for Evan Harris”, I had a tear in my eye.

Footnote
*This is based on the exit poll (see entry at 23:11), which looks consistent with the results of the actual election as of 10:30am May 7th which are Conservative 291, Labour 247, Liberal Democrat 51 616 of 650 seats declared. Under pure proportionality UKIP would receive 20 seats, the BNP 12.

11 comments

  1. Billy Gotta-Job

    Aren't the 12 seats for the BNP part of the answer to your questions? I would support the STV system, but not "full proportionality" as you appear to favour. It gives far too much bargaining power to extreme parties. The "dampening" effect of having to get a series of 640 majorities rather than one overall majority is an important check and balance.

  2. SomeBeans

    I used the fully proportional system because it's easy to calculate, an important factor if you've not slept for 24 hours!

    Jenkins Commission recommended Alternative Vote Plus (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alternative_Vote_Top-up)

    I don't believe you should build an electoral system around the BNP. If we really don't think the BNP should be electorally represented we should ban them as a party (I don't advocate this).

    But look at it this way: how much political damage would it do to a mainstream party to be seen to form a coalition in government with the BNP? I believe that when exposed to the oxygen of democracy the BNP will burn up because they are both nasty and stupid.

  3. SomeBeans

    I added a link to Mark Henderson's article in the Times on why the loss of Evan Harris from parliament is such a blow.

    http://timesonline.typepad.com/science/2010/05/election-2010-a-terrible-night-for-science.html

  4. billynojob

    Sorry, I misinterpreted your illustration as also being your preferred option – and fully accept your sleep deprivation argument!

    Although I can see your point about the unlikely outcome of giving BNP or similar parties serious influence, I still feel a bit nervous. I support the Greens so you might expect me to welcome proportionality, but compare the Lucas result to the Griffin one. I still think a modified first-past-the-post system is preferable.

  5. asphodeline

    Sadly your graph demonstrates most clearly why we haven't had PR before. Changes in Scottish voting system have already helped to redres the balance but It needs to be sorted here too.

  6. Phil

    Hmmm – I think you'll find a Liberal seat only requires 33,000 votes – unless you think my representative should be determined by votes outside my constituency?! Seriously I get the point, but this illustrates the problem I always have with PR – it's politics at a national level, which may well be the reality of how we all vote, but I'm not sure how I square this with local representation (for want of a better term).

  7. SomeBeans

    It looks like I need a general proportional representation blog post, which I'm not up to at the moment!

    Systems such as AV+ use constituencies topped up by party lists – so there is still "localisation".

    I'm fed up with my vote counting one, whilst other count three. I've been doing it for 20 years.

  8. BP

    Ian, I think you need to lie down for a bit…. :-)

  9. Phil

    I could go for AV+ (I didn't know it had a name!) – if the party list was determined/orders by say losing candidates with the most votes it'd be preferable to party 'favourites' – or lackeys!

  10. Benjamin M. A'Lee

    If I remember correctly, the Green Party would also get 6 seats, not just one.

    To anybody who thinks that the fact that the BNP would get seats is a reason not to support PR (of whatever kind): the BNP, and BNP voters, are citizens. You may not agree with them (I certainly don't), but they have the right to express their opinions. In an ideal world, nobody would have their opinions (for that matter, nobody would agree with the Tories, either), but currently they do, and they have as much right to them as anybody else (unfortunately…).

    The correct way to deal with the problem is not to prevent them from being elected to Parliament, but to convince people not to elect them.

  11. VotePeterShields.co.uk

    Constantly surprised by the amount of people who seem to think that having the BNP represented democratically is a problem but seeing Sinn Fein elected is not.

    The way to beat ideologies you don't like is to beat them, not to rig the system against them.

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