Wednesday, 13 May 2015

Is a Kipper really only worth 0.9% of a Tory?

As the General Election recedes and the new landscape reveals itself, the idiocy of the electoral system needs to remain at the fore of politics and as an articulated grievance not just of the media and political classes but as a clear argument on the legitimacy of government.

One of the key defences of the current system, which merely requires an MP to secure one more vote than the second-placed candidate, irrespective of the share he or she achieves of the total poll, is that the voter is not electing a party but a representative.  This is, legalistically, true, although in recent decades the inclusion of party logos on ballot papers undermines this yet further.

First past the post (FPTP) produces massive, and inconsistent, distortions of the worth of an individual's vote.  In the most recent election, nearly 31 million valid votes were cast, requiring an average of 47,633 across 650 seats.  Recognising that there won't be equality in either the number of voters or turnout across seats, this is a crude measure of the worth of individual votes.

Examining total party support, across all constituencies, reveals the following number of votes required to elect an MP:

Democratic Unionist - 23,033
Scottish Nationalist - 25,972
Conservative - 34,140
Labour - 40,277
Sinn Fein - 44,058
Ulster Unionist - 57,468
Plaid Cymru - 60,655
Liberal Democrat - 301,986
Green - 1,157, 613
UKIP - 3,888,129

There will inevitably be volatility in party support between elections, and no system will ever produce an equality of outcome, but this is an egregious demonstration of the failings of the current system.  Taking this into account, I am compiling a Tory Equivalent Vote going back to 1951 for each party, to demonstrate quite how arbitrary the system has become.  As an example, in 2001 a Labour vote was 192% as effective as a Tory vote in securing MPs.  However, it is only in 2015 that Green and UKIP votes were respectively only 3% and 0.9% on the TEV scale.

As an aside, the weakness of the TEV is that it does not count votes for parties who did not secure a single MP, but as they are by definition ineffective in terms of representation this is less than important.

The TEV for 2015 is therefore as follows (2010 in brackets):

Democratic Unionist - 148% (166%)
Scottish Nationalist - 131% (42%)
Conservative - 100% (100%)
Labour - 85% (105%)
Sinn Fein - 77% (101%)
Ulster Unionist - 59% (NA)
Plaid Cymru - 56% (62%)
Liberal Democrat - 11% (29%)
Green - 3% (13%)
UKIP - 0.9% (NA)

Any system that can produce such distortion and volatility is not legitimate, nor is it effective in articulating people's preferences.  As a travesty of democracy, and as a contributor to the demise of trust in the ability of the political process to articulate and channel legitimate debate, this is stark.  It should not be a matter of partisanship but justice.  The Tories and their allies have been the most consistent beneficiaries - there needs to be a hard process of mobilisation that acknowledges change is required and more quickly than conventional party politics can offer.  A real test for Labour will be whether it recognises that this is not 1983 all over again, but a completely changed landscape.

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