The general election results in May were a surprise, and depressing. We were all expecting a hung parliament at worst, with the possibility of a left-wing coalition or even a left-wing victory at best. Instead the people of Britain spoke, and apparently spoke in favour of 5 more years of misery suffering and general hell for the young, poor and vulnerable. Yes to more food banks, yes to more kicking the disabled, yes to greater freedom for the rich and the powerful to exploit everyone else. Most recently yes to cuts in child tax credits, representing further financial loss to the poor, and possibly cuts in housing benefit for the tenants ‘because the housing benefit bill is too big and climbing’ while the rich landlords causing that are left free to buy up the housing stock and raise rents. Go Britain. What an amazing country to be proud of.
I thought I’d have a closer look at the figures to see how representative the result is.
Firstly and obviously the turn out was only 66%. That means a whole third of the electorate said nothing at all. Why that should be we can only guess, but I am guessing that discouragement and disillusionment played a major part.
Next, let’s look at the vote percentages. Only 36.9% of those who voted actually voted for the Tories. 30.4% voted for Labour. Yet there is a huge difference between the vote percentage and the percentage of power actually gained thereby. 36.9% of 650 seats available = 240 (to nearest seat!). 30.4% of 650 seats available = 198. The Tories actually won 331 seats and Labour 232. Further, the Tories’ gain of 91 represents 14% of available seats whereas the Labour gain of 34 represents 5%. Not only was there a big difference between the vote and seat percentages but that difference hugely favoured the tories this time.
Not that all the problems are on the side of the left. UKIP gained 12.6% of the vote, yet that only gains them 1 seat. This is to me a major indication of problems. How can we claim to be living in a democracy when 12.6 % of the vote results in virtually no representation at all? I am not a fan of UKIP, I find their positions ill-thought out, contradictory, plain wrong and positively dangerous (I also find it blackly amusing that it should be they who demonstrate the problems with our democracy best), but if they had been given the representation that percentage deserves they would be free to demonstrate their stupidities for all the world to see. Instead the simmering resentment felt by the many who, for whatever reason, chose to vote for them will now continue to be pushed underground and ignored by the establishment for as long as possible until the next election. The reasons people are voting for them are not going to go away and need to be addressed (by better education and information, in my opinion).
In Scotland, too, the SNP only took 50% of the vote yet gained 56 out of 59 seats. Labour took 24.3% – virtually a full quarter for goodness sake – yet only gained 1 seat. The Tories and Lib Dems also took 1 each with 14.9% and 7.5% respectively. How is this representing the will of the people?
You can see similar problems in Northern Ireland. The DUP and Sinn Fein took 25.7% and 24.5% respectively, so should be reasonably well matched. Yet the DUP has 8 seats and SF 4. SDLP gained 13.9% yet have 3 seats, more on a par with the SF while UUP with 16 took only 2. I know nothing of NI politics so cannot comment further beyond the numbers, but the mismatch is clear.
I find the vote percentage increases on the 2010 results interesting as well. The big losers of course were the Lib Dems, no surprises there, so most other parties gained. Yet the Tories only gained 0.8% of the vote percentage compared with 2010. How did that translate into gaining an extra 24 seats? Labour actually gained 1.5%, almost double the increase of the Tories. So exactly how could that manage to translate into losing 26 seats?? For the record, the SNP vote increase which translated into that huge seat gain of 50 was only 3.1%, UKIP’s increase was 9.5%. The Greens more than doubled their vote share by 2.8% but still have only the 1 MP.
I am sometimes told, in tones of justification, that there have always been problems with vote and seat mismatch percentages. This is true. You can have a quick look at this website summarising Election results since 1945 and the contrast between the vote percentage and seat percentage gained. Is that really an excuse to ignore the problems?
This is not a trivial question. If the seats gained had more accurately reflected the vote share, the Tories would not have won outright this time in 2015. We would not be listening to David Cameron going on about repealing the fox hunting act, privatising schools and cutting child tax credit and housing benefit for the poorest right now. In 2010 the Lib Dems should have had a much bigger presence, nearly equal to that of Labour. In 2005, when Blair secured a historic 3rd term in office, it should have been a hung parliament, again with a much larger Lib Dem presence in play.
Do we want democracy or not? Is there realistically a better system, even with all its vulnerabilities around education and information currently on show? We can argue about whether hung parliaments are better for the country or not, but the point is that when these huge mismatches exist, when parties are apparently winning elections and imposing their particular policies and ideologies when they shouldn’t, we are clearly not living in even the minimal democracy we are claimed to be. Particularly now, as the right-wing neoliberalists finally get to tear down the last of the public sector and take us straight back to the pre-Gladstonian values of oligarchy, wealth, nepotism and patronage, is this not important to us?