Flickr/RachelH_. Some rights reservedSo UK is going to have yet another General Election in June despite the deeply ingrained failings of its electoral system. As we start to think about what comes next, it’s worth emphasising that the problems go deeper than party representation, and raise questions about the legitimacy of individual MPs and to what extent they represent their constituencies. The 2011 AV referendum rejected reform of the First-Past-The-Post (FPTP) system but the problems have only intensified since then.
Not only did a third of the electorate not bother to vote in 2015, but a large number of electors did not even bother to register. The Electoral Commission (EC) raised the issue of the disappearance of some 1.9 million people from the register – many of them in urban areas and concentrated in the young and ethnic minorities. The UK electorate in 2015 was 46.4 million, of which only 30.7 million votes were valid. The EC estimates in some constituencies as many as 15% of voters are unregistered.
It gets worse if one looks at the share of the votes taken by winning MPs in the 2015 General Election.
Even with an electoral turnout of 66.2%, very few of the MPs managed to secure at least 50% of those voting in their constituency. 50 candidates were elected on less than 40% of the vote and 8 MPs received less than 35% of the votes cast. One MP achieved a record in electoral history with only 24.5% of the votes.
Conservatives MPs with less than 40% of votes – 5.5% MPs with 40-49% of votes – 41.6% MPs with more than 50% of those voting – 52.9%No less than 47.1% of Tory MPs failed to secure at least half of the votes cast in their constituency. They did manage to marginally increase the % of their MPs with more than 50% of local votes compared to 2010. But almost half of their MPs failed to get 50% of those voting. LabourMPs with less than 40% of votes – 8.2%MPs with 40-49% of votes – 46.4%More than 50% of votes – 45.49% 54.6% of Labour MPs failed to secure at least half of local votes. The party did improve on 2010 but not by much.The SNPMPs with less than 40% of votes – 3.4% of all SNP seats in 2015MPs with 40-49% of votes – 36.2% of all SNP seats in 2015MPs with more than 50% of votes – 60.34% of all SNP seats in 2015The SNP had a much larger % of their MPs with more than 50% of those voting which reflects the higher turnout in Scotland and the success of the SNP is mobilising their supporters. The situation is slightly worse for Labour than it is for the Tories but this simply reflects the fact that the Tories have massive majorities in more wealthy homogeneous constituencies [the Tory shires of fame]. But the figures are worse if we take into account the full size of the electorate, not just those who voted. Thus there is only 1 MP in the House of Commons that managed to get just over 50% of the electorate– he is George Howarth who has been the MP for Knowsley since 1986 and a member of the Labour Party. It is a fact worth emphasising: apart from Howarth who got 78% of those voting no other MP managed to get 50% of the electorate.
The distributions are as follows: It has been suggested by no less than the First Minister for Scotland that one of the real reasons that the May Government has called an election in June is because of the probability that she would lose her majority if the election of various MPs was to be ruled as invalid. The election can thus be seen as an attempt by the Government to forestall a possible loss of a majority in the House of Commons.This situation can only get worse for the country as a whole as we move to a system of individual electoral registration rather than one based on households. Of course the change of system is being undertaken by the Tories who will gain further from establishing an even more unrepresentative process. No less than half [50%] of all votes went to losing candidates. Thus 15 million people had no effect on the choice of candidates. The number of candidates elected on less than 40% of the votes doubled between 2005- 2010 and although this trend was partially reversed in 2015 there are, as can be seen from the above data, still a significant % elected on this basis. But the rise of populism and increasing support for political extremes may cause a re-think of the FPTP system which effectively disenfranchises half of those voting.