You may have the impression that the Conservatives gained an absolute majority of the vote in last week’s election, and that Labour lost a great deal of support. Well, if you have a careful look at the official BBC results table you will notice that what actually happened is something quite different.
The Conservatives did improve their share of the vote compared to the last general election in 2010, but by less than 1%. Labour on the other hand did slightly better, they attracted 1.5% more votes than last time. However, our perverse electoral system has somehow turned these tiny changes into a difference of 50 seats between the parties: the Conservatives ended up with 24 more seats and Labour with 26 fewer.
And that’s not all. Only 37% of people who went to the polls last week voted Conservative, but with that total the party has captured 51% of the seats in parliament. ‘There’s something wrong there surely’ I hear you say. It gets better, or worse, I should say. The Scottish National Party gained just under 5% of the vote, but that got them nearly 9% of seats in the House – that’s 56 seats (of the 650 available). The Greens, however, received only one seat – with nearly 4% of the vote. So one per cent difference in voting share can give rise to 55 more seats!
Perhaps the most absurd part of the results is what happened to UKIP, and here you might think it’s a good thing. UKIP actually came third in terms of the votes cast, but they ended up equal 10th with the Greens because, like them, they got just one seat. With over 12% of the vote UKIP only managed 0.1% of the seats. Lucky it may be, but is it democratic?
Perhaps you remember that we had a referendum on electoral reform, which might have made a difference to this kind of absurd outcome, not long after the previous election, and that it was rejected. What happened was that the Liberal Democrats demanded electoral reform as the price for joining the coalition, because they had themselves been suffering the negative effects of the totally unfair ‘first past the post system’ for decades. But the Conservatives, who tend to benefit from it, managed to get a compromise system on the referendum ballot which pleased no one really. The Liberal Democrats (and the press) also totally failed to communicate the importance of reform to ordinary people, paralysed by the stupid mantra that most voters can’t be bothered with that kind of thing. As if someone who goes out to vote will not really mind that their vote will probably end up being binned.
This brings me to one aspect of last week’s results that does appear just. The Lib Dems lost 15% of the vote compared to last time, and are 49 seats down (on 8). They had a once-in-a-generation chance to change the voting system, and they messed up. I think they had it coming.