Why the Tories can’t complain about the election arithmetic.
“It is a truth universally acknowledged that it takes fewer votes to elect a Labour than a Conservative government,” claimed the Tory MP Sarah Wollaston, dragging Jane Austen into the political dispute that culminated in this afternoon’s heavy Commons defeat for the Conservative half of the coalition government.
That is a fact. At the last election, Labour scored one MP for every 33,359 votes cast for the party, whereas it took 35,314 for each Tory elected. That is the imbalance the Conservatives hoped that the now defunct boundaries bill would put right.
It was not always thus. The advantage was with the Tories until the 1997 election. In 1992, for example, it took an average of 42,656 votes to get one Labour MP into Parliament and 41,943 for a Tory. The boundary review that tipped the voting pattern in Labour’s favour was conducted under John Major’s government, which answers the suggestion heard from some quarters that Labour is guilty of gerrymandering.
But if we are talking about the unfairness in the system, it is the smaller parties who have reason to complain. In 2010, the Lib Dems got only one MP for every 119,933 votes they received. The Greens received 265,243 votes, but have only one MP to show for, and poor old UKIP received 919,471 votes but have no MPs at all. You will not hear any prominent Conservative suggest that anything needs to be done about that.
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