I’ve put off commentating on the UK General Election for a few weeks. Firstly, because I was on holiday when the results were being counted and secondly, because I wanted time to collect my thoughts. I have written before, about the Scottish Referendum, and my thoughts on how this impacted democracy and now we have another set of results to ponder.
Let’s skip over the compete inability of the professional commentators and pollsters failure to predict results. There is a collective ignorance across much of mainstream media about how voters interact with pollsters and focus groups. You get this in all sorts of surveys and its hidden in the small print (not in this blog) when they say 8 out of 10 WHO RESPONDED, liked so and so. Political pollsters use their already collected results to distribute the don’t know and go away responses across the existing results i.e. if 35% is the rating for party x then they assume that 35% of the don’t knows or won’t tells will vote that way. In other words the extrapolate the results based on current and past numbers and therefore confirm their own prediction. Me I bet money on the result, for non-Conservative supporters, sorry yes I did bet on a Conservative win. Even I did not expect an overall majority via the first past the post system. Of course what the pollsters wanted was 650 surveys featuring a high number of respondents. They had to wait for the actual election to get an accurate forecast. Even the exit polls were incorrect. Now it is believed that the split in the don’t knows and won’t tells was actually heavily in favour (in England anyway) of the Conservatives. Who knows? The don’t knows and won’t tells will get another chance in five years for the general election. By which time we will have had another referendum, euro-elections, Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly elections and numerous local elections. All of which will give the pollsters something to discuss.
Meanwhile I can turn my attention to the major democratic deficiencies highlighted by the election. Lets start with facts. I’ll use the BBC’s results page for ease of look up, I’m not dismissing NI and Wales but concentrating on England and Scotland and I’ll gloss over the fact that only 66% bothered to vote at all
- Con 331 seats from 36.9% of the vote
- Lab 232 from 30.4%
- SNP 56 from 4.7%
- LibDem 8 from 7.9%
- Green 1 from 3.8%
- UKIP 1 from 12.6%
So democracy in action meant that with 37% of the people who voted for UKIP, the SNP ended up with 56 times the number of MPs. The Labour comparison is also interesting 6.5 times the number of votes for only 4.1 times the number of seats. The Conservatives won an outright majority with 36.9% of 66.1% or 24% of the possible voting public. Before the other parties get on their high horses only 20% voted for Labour and 3% for the SNP. We can then argue about combinations voting against i.e. which is a nice way of saying no outright majority voted for anybody. Yes I know SNP had 50% of the vote but that is actually 50% of the 71.1% that voted i.e. 35.5% of the eligible voters.
Aren’t numbers great! percentages are even better allowing all sorts of conclusions to be drawn or statistics manipulated depending on what headline the writer wants to create.
What is clear is that two parties are massively underrepresented in the UK Parliament UKIP and the Greens on shares of the vote they should have 81.9 and 24.7 MPs respectively. The Lib Dems should have 51 and the SNP 30.55. If we limited SNP to Scotland they should only have 50% of 59 i.e. 24.5.
Various proportional representation systems would have produced various different results. If single transferable votes were used then who knows where it would end up. Lists (like the Euro elections) would get a different outcome again.
What does this mean? If you don’t vote you can’t complain. If you do vote you can complain all you want but we had a referendum on changing the system from first past the post and barely anybody (OK 41%) bothered to vote and 67.9% voted to keep the current system. Can’t complain about that either.
Of course in this dirge I haven’t tried to answer why the vote went the way it did. To quote the Bill Clinton 1992 US Presidential campaign “The economy stupid”