Why the Tories can’t complain about the election arithmetic.

Andy McSmith

jane austen 300x225 Why the Tories cant 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.

  • Junius

    If there is unfairness in the electoral system, and most fair-minded folk will agree there is, Labour had the chance to do something about it after the 1997 general election. Indeed, the party’s manifesto included the following pledge:

    “We are committed to a referendum on the voting system for the House of Commons. An independent commission on voting systems will be appointed early to recommend a proportional alternative to the first-past-the-post system.”

    The independent commission was duly appointed and produced its report on a new voting system in October 1998, recommending AV+. It was left to the Coalition government to make good Labour’s referendum pledge, 13 years later, albeit on a straight AV system without top-ups, and the voters rejected the proposal.

    Perhaps, if Ed Miliband wins the next general election, he will kill two birds with one stone by holding referendums on a proper PR system for the Commons and Britain’s membership of the EU on the same day.

    But I would not put good money on it.

  • Alan Borgars

    You are right,Defoe….first past the post needs to be replaced asap…either Single Transferable Vote (much better than AV) or Proportional Representation (perhaps with a 1% threshold) will do much better for British democracy…most people are sick of the FPTP system in reality.

  • frances smith

    I watched the debate and was struck by how the main arguments from some tories, including sarah wollaston, was that it wasn’t fair that that MP over on the other side of the house had a smaller constituency than me.

    There was even one tory mp, whose name I forget, who said that he was voting for the changes as he believed it was in his constituents interests for them to have a conservative government, forgetting, I think, that that is for them to decide themselves.

    I thought I had accidentally stumbled into a school playground. It is good news that the tories lost on this, for us all, as it was clearly just an attempt at gerrymandering, but it revealed the poor quality of many of our mps.

  • frances smith

    well if the ukip can bully cameron into a eu referendum maybe those of us who want pr can bully miliband into introducing pr, its just a matter of agreeing the name of the party.

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