Some thoughts on the UK election result

Some thoughts on the UK election result
The UK election result provides a real opportunity for major improvements in the way politics and voting is done in the UK.
At time of writing, with 9 seats out of 650 still to be declared, it is clear that the Conservatives will fall short of a majority, and without support from the Liberal Democrats, seem unlikely to able to form a coalition majority government.
While the Lib Dem result would be very disappointing for them given all the pre-election polls, their overall vote of 23% has gone up around 1% which is their highest ever despite them dropping about 5 seats (although their forerunner SDP/Lib Alliance polled over 25% in 1983, but got far fewer seats).
– Lib Dems + Conservatives is a clear majority. This could and should only happen if there was clear electoral reform – not just the primitive First Past The Post voting system, but also the dreadful malapportionment, at least within England.  There would also have to be some sort of understanding about economic/budget policy. I’d be surprised if the Conservatives repeated the hopeless mistake of the Tasmanian Liberals where they didn’t even try to find common ground with the Greens (and having just heard David Cameron speak, it seems that he isn’t doing so).
– If the Lib Dems & Labour combined, + the single (Lib Dem aligned) Alliance Party from Northern Ireland and you add the Scottish & Welsh Nationalists, the single Green, (and maybe the 3 SDLP from Nth Ireland) (and take out the 4 Sinn Fein & the Speaker who don’t vote) there would be enough to just scrape together a majority, which could push through electoral reform (more likely to be Australian style lower house preferential voting, rather than proportional representation, given some of the geographical concentration that provides some of the minor parties with their opportunity to win seats). However resistance from the House of Lords could drag that out for some time, and it is hard to know how well such a disparate collection could hold things together.
– The impossible thing for any party to predict is what the electoral impact would be of shifting to an Australian style preferential voting system. The tactical voting that has developed over decades in response to the perversion of a First Past The Post system with 3 (or in some case 4) different parties competing for some seats makes it very hard to know how people might vote if tactical voting was removed.

The UK election result provides a real opportunity for major improvements in the way politics and voting is done in the UK.

At time of writing, with 4 seats out of 650 still to be declared, the Conservatives will clearly fall short of a majority, and without support from the Liberal Democrats, seem unlikely to able to form a coalition majority government.

While the Lib Dem result would be very disappointing for them given all the pre-election polls, their overall vote of 23% has gone up around 1% which is their highest ever, despite them dropping about 5 seats (although their forerunner SDP/Lib Alliance polled over 25% in 1983, but got far fewer seats).

– Lib Dems + Conservatives is a clear majority. This could and should only happen if there was clear electoral reform – not just the primitive First Past The Post voting system, but also the dreadful malapportionment, at least within England.  There would also have to be some sort of understanding about economic/budget policy. I’d be surprised if the Conservatives repeated the hopeless mistake of the Tasmanian Liberals where they didn’t even try to find common ground with the Greens (and having just heard David Cameron speak, it seems that he isn’t doing so).

– Once you take out the 5 Sinn Fein & the Speaker who don’t vote, the Lib Dems & Labour + the single (Lib Dem aligned) Alliance Party from Northern Ireland and the single Green, the Scottish & Welsh Nationalists, that is likely to be sufficient (maybe with the 3 SDLP from Nth Ireland as a backup) to scrape together a majority, which could push through electoral reform (more likely to be Australian style lower house preferential voting, rather than proportional representation, given some of the geographical concentration that provides some of the minor parties with their opportunity to win seats). Electoral reform should also address the major malapportionment across electorates and the appropriateness of having unelected people in the House of Lords. However resistance from the Lords could drag out such reform for some time, and it is hard to know how well such a disparate collection could hold things together for that length of time – particularly given that the party discipline that applies in Australia is more rigid than in the UK.

– The impossible thing for any party to predict is what the electoral impact would be of shifting to an Australian style preferential voting system. The tactical voting that has developed over decades in response to the perversion of a First Past The Post system with 3 (or in some case 4) different parties as potential winners in  some seats makes it very hard to know how people might vote if tactical voting was removed.

PS: I also can’t help but note how tragic it is that one of the birthplaces of parliamentary democracy has such an antiquated electoral system (although to be fair those of Canada and the USA are even worse). Those who have a habit of looking down their noses at the adequacy of elections in poorer countries with newer democracies should keep that in mind.

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30 Comments

  1. The SDLP take the Labour whip. Also, independent unionist Sylvia Hermon left the UUP over their Tory alliance, so she is probably an extra pro-Labour vote. Lab+LD+SDLP+Hermon+Alliance = 320. Seems plausible to then get support from the nationalists and the Greens. I tend to think Caroline Lucas will tend to align with the SNP and PC, as the Greens do in the European Parliament.

  2. I think we all agree that FPP voting is about as fair and democratic as a Haggis throwing competition. Cleggs problem now is how to achieve electoral reform, and what system to favour.

    I disagree with your point Andrew about “tactical voting” though. Tactical voting is equivalent to our preferential system prefs allocation (decided by parties and voters alike every time we vote). Preferential voting allows you to vote for your best choice, without losing your ability to vote against your worst last choice.

    Tactical voting is the same thing – in FPP voting. Parties suggest it, and voters do it – because they cannot allocate a preference – and cannot stop their least favored Party from winning by default.

    The Lib Dems come second in more constituencies than any other party – and polls consistently show a much higher Lib Dem vote if voters actually believed they could win. Optional or exhaustive preferential voting would have seen the number of Lib Dem seats triple at this poll – whichever way you look at it.

    Proportional voting isn’t a great fit in Lower Houses where constituency based, local issues culture is dominant. Preferential would be much fairer – or even a combination of constituency preferential, and list proportional might work.

    In any event – here’s what I think Clegg should do:

    1. Decline any invitation to coalition and Ministry jobs in the absence of electoral reform legislation being passed by the commons;

    2. Guarantee both major parties that the Lib Dems will not block supply – and not support “no-confidence” motions moved by either major party against a minority government;

    3. Maintain full policy independence, to vote on each piece of legislation on it’s merits;

    4. Negotiate a compromise piece of electoral legislation with whomever will agree to support it – and have them move it in the commons – or move it himself.

    In short – Cameron’s Conservatives can govern in minority – but not have policy control of the Parliament.

  3. I don’t know much about British politics, but I am expecting a coalition of Labor and Liberal Democrats et al (who are all probably Greens anyway).

    In Australia I think the next federal election, possibly only 3 months away, will result in the same outcome (Labor/Greens Coalition), but I would prefer to see politicians from various smaller parties in the parliament, and get rid of Labor and Liberals altogether.

    I am told that both LNP and Labor parties are on the verge of explosion here in Queensland, due to huge conflicts arising from privatisation of rail, ports etc. Two male politicians from the LNP have already quit the party and become Independents. I think they would also be copping a fair amount of abuse from farmers, due to the impounding of parts of their properties using vegetation laws.

    I’m getting really worried about what is happening in Greece, where the economic collapse of the government has resulted in people rioting in the streets. I make mention of this because 27 nations (including UK and Greece) form the European Economic Union.

    I think Tony told us that the only people who have made financial mileage in those countries since the implementation of a Carbon Trading Scheme have been large corporations.

    On the news last night, it was said that Queensland may get an upper house of review, after decades of having a unicameral government (single house of parliament). Now get this! There will be no new seats, only the same number distributed across both houses.

    Maybe Andrew knows why they would not have more seats for the upper house.

  4. Andrew O:

    I think in seats where the incumbent holds a virtual stranglehold on the voters, a candidate might put him/her last on the preferential voting order, even if the candidate/party has a great deal of respect for him/her.

    You cannot win an election by putting the incumbent second, but it also depends on the total number of candidates, and whether or not some of them are anathema to a particular candidate/party.

  5. Even though I’m a Labor supporter in this country I beleive the British people have voted with the intent to remove the current Government. I worry that without a strong mandidate the Government regardless of who is in power will fail to make the tough decisions that Britian needs.

    As for the voting system, I believe the Australian model elects strong Government’s with a mandidate to govern. I know many people in minor parties disagree with this but I believe the Senate with its proportional distribution delivers diversity. I certainly don’t want the Government having to form Coliations with family first or the Greens to govern.

  6. I understand what you’re saying Andrew O, but tactical voting under FPTP means you are giving your primary (and also your only) vote to a party you would otherwise not have voted first for, because they are the best chance of keeping an even less preferred party from winning. Unlike with preferential voting, there is no way to be sure which party people would have given their number 1 vote if it wasn’t a FPTP system.

    It’s reasonable to predict the Lib Dem vote would improve – and opinion polling would also give the parties some idea – but I still think it would be hard to predict exactly how peoples’ voting habits would change.

    I think the general approach you suggest for Clegg is a good one, though I suspect there will need to be stronger guarantees on fiscal matters, given the UK’s fairly precarious budget position.

  7. Justin… the reality of the British system is – that the Conservatives polled 36% of the vote. 64% of the electorate voted against them. In a democracy – why should 36% (a distinct minority) govern with absolute power, over the significant majority??? In most constituencies – MPs have been elected without an absolute majority of votes – in most cases they have been sent to Westminster by between 20% and 35% of their electorates. I do not accept that a majority of the British electorate voted for a conservative government – and it is unknown if a majority voted to oust Brown and Labour.

    In Australia – we have lived for generations with political coalition governments at state and federal levels. The Liberals and the Nationals (and forerunners) are distinct parties remember? A Labor / Green Coalition doesn’t concern me that much – in fact it might encourage Labor to enact progressive laws, instead of just talking about them when in opposition. The Liberal & National link has always led to more conservative policies being adopted by Liberals.

    Andrew, I think every UK pollster, and psephologist will confirm for you that the FPP voting system militates mainly against the Liberal Democrats – and limits not only their % total vote – but also seats won, given the lack of geographic concentration which benefits Labour and Conservative. Because of the FPP system, huge numbers of voters don’t vote Lib Dem – because they don’t believe they can possibly win – and their vote is wasted!

    As I pointed out before, the Lib Dems have been coming second in most seats for about 20 years now. There is no doubt they would triple their seats on yesterdays’ results given a preferential 50% +1 system.

    John Cleese explains this better than I can:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9gv4Abt3sZU

  8. That’s all true Andrew O, but one of the reasons why the Lib Dems come second in some seats is because Labour leaning voters have voted Lib Dem to try keep the Tories out in their electorate, and Tory leaning voters have voted Lib Dem to keep Labour out in their electorate. The Lib Dems can’t (and I’m sure won’t) assume that all those votes would stay with them under a preferential system. Of course the applies in reverse, where Lib Dems leaning voters have voted for one of the other parties in an effort to keep their least preferred candidate out.

    Given how grossly under-represented the Lib Dems have been ever since their inception, it is hard to see how they could any worse than they currently are under the barely democratic British system. But I am still not convinced that anyone can be sure exactly how everything would play out if/when all those strategic voters had a chance to vote based on putting their favourite candidate first, rather than voting to keep their least favoured candidate out.

  9. Well yes… I guess the question is – does tactical voting result in a net loss of Lib Dem votes vis-a-vis the other parties – or a net benefit under FPP voting?

    You’re right… we won’t know for sure until the voting system changes – but the quantitative researchers, the Lib Dems themselves and people like me, are arguing that current tactical voting patterns (under FPP) result in a net loss to the Lib Dems in votes % and also in seats – and have done so for years.

    The vote drain in FPP from minor progressive parties like the SNP, Plaid Cymru, Greens, English Liberals and English Democrats etc… also artificially reduces the Lib Dem vote more than the majors. or reverse that, and say preferential voting would boost the Lib Dem vote.

    The reluctance of the Conservatives and until now, Labour, to change the system tends to indicate that they know this too. They both benefit more from the leakage of tactical Lib Dem voters in their geographic heartlands.

    I just hope that Clegg stays the course, and obtains electoral reform this time round – because I fear, if he doesn’t, his base will desert him (aka Australian Democrats) – and a generational opportunity to break the Labour Conservative duopoly will have passed.

  10. One major issue that is being overlooked is drug policy. With Clegg strongly supporting drug law reform and the public backlash from the sacking of professor David Nutt, the UK might actually be the first major nation to introduce significant changes to drug policy.

    The UK is the only country to have never stopped prescription heroin and cocaine for addicts although it rarely happens these days. Interestingly, the UK has just finished a scientific trial to analyse why giving long term addicts their drug of addiction, kept their drug problem in the 1960s at a fraction of what it was overseas and what it is today.

    Since prescription heroin for addicts has proved highly successful in every trial to date, is much more accepted than what it once was and doesn’t require the UK parliament to pass any special new laws then it will most probably become part of the UK’s drug policy.

    Clegg would also push for cannabis legalisation and decriminalisation of all drugs for personal use.

    Most importantly, the drug scheduling system for classing the harms of drugs will get a much needed overhaul as recommended by the government’s science advisory group and many other experts in the UK. This will have a huge impact on the world as it brings into question the existing schedules for other countries which are not based on science or evidence but political posturing, the media and moral crusaders.

    If the UK takes up even part of what Clegg wants, it will kick start the drug reform avalanche started by The Netherlands, Switzerland, Portugal, Mexico, The Czech Republic, Poland etc.

    The end to drug prohibition worldwide will be one of the most significant changes to society we will probably ever experience. Most anti-prohibitionists know this including Clegg. In theory, Clegg could be responsible for cutting UK crime in half, saving thousands of lives and freeing up tens of billions of euros each year.

  11. Terry Wright:

    I think legalisation of prohibited drugs is a very bad idea.

    Just how many people do you want to suffer from mental illnesses, or to end up in hospital or in jail, after someone under the influence reacts in a negative way?

    How many people do you want living on Disability Pensions instead of becoming or remaining productive members of society?

  12. Yes, harm minimisation policy is a big Lib Dem priority. The question is… how do we help Nick get it past the conservative watchdogs in the Labservative Party(s)???

  13. Someone has been feeding the chooks.
    Andrew O, surely the intelligent thing to do for Clegg was form a coalition with Labour to allow thru electoral reform, upon which Britain’s future rests.
    Almost a rerun in macro of the pitiful Tassie election of a month ago. The politicians should collectively hang their heads in shame in these locales- god help us if these sorts of clowns are running the rest of the planet, too.

  14. Paul Walter:

    Well I hate to be the harbinger of bad news, but “these sorts of clowns” proliferate throughout the world, including in our own parliaments.

    The planet is largely run at a global level these days. Have you not read the various global declarations and agreements signed by past Australian governments?

    At the next Australian election, I expect Labor will lose support, mostly to The Greens and Liberals and exactly the same dilemma re governance will arise.

    The Global Plan is for a green agenda to be used to empower huge corporations via Carbon Trading, and to break developed nations both as a whole and at an individual level. Free Trade Agreements are being used to ensure that developed nations rack up huge foreign debt.

    Foreign debt has been steadily climbing in our own country over the last 20 years under both Liberal and Labor governments, with a few little peaks and valleys here and there. At the moment, Rudd is creating quite a nasty little spike of his own.

    Just check out what is happening in Greece … European Economic Union forms comprising 27 nations, large corporations benefit from a Carbon Trading Scheme, economy collapses, rioting in the streets, and now the IMF (International Monetary Fund) bailing them out to the tune of trillions.

    I suggest we all stay tuned for plenty more of the same.

  15. Lorikeet, I’d agree with you about free trade agendas and governance, but disagree with your notion that globalisation is driven by a plan devised by Greens and environmentalists.
    I think these are actually people like you who are perturbed at the growing power of the now global capitalist machine and its ability to remove the rights and abilities of locales and individuals to defend themselves against the imperatives of big business, which is happy to finance politicians into government who are happy to follow its self-absorbed agenda.
    Greens, if they are like me, object to the removal of science based evidence and the attack on “sustainability”, in a world of limited resources, as a criterion of what constitutes a reasonable business decision involving the world and its peoples resources.
    The Gulf oil spill is a typical example: environmentalists were not against oil drilling, but drilling made unsafe to cut costs for profits.
    The damage is going to run into tens, perhaps hundreds of $billions when examined right across the US economy to involved fishing etc, also affected.
    It suits big business to scapegoat environmentalists, but this is only to distract attention away from big business and its own motives.

  16. Paul Walter:

    I would be interested in hearing what you think about the Green agenda again in 5 to 10 years time, when world events and changes have played out a bit more i.e. after Labor/some Libs and big business have turned power over to The Greens.

  17. We’ve recently been looking at sustainability at work, and the definition we are working on is one about leaving the world in such good shape that the next generations can also get from it what they need. It doesn’t need to be a Green Party that is in charge, but any party with green ideas. Hoever, despite their name, conservative people generally are not focussed on conservation of resources, but on ripping them out and selling them for short-term gain. That’s the kind of htinkign that The Greens oppose, and if more non-Green Australians backed the green ideas floating aorund in the community and the other parties, the feat Greens woudl not have such an ability to attract concerned people who see little action on green issues by anyone else.

  18. Togret:

    Most parties have a fairly long list of policies. I think it is important to evaluate the whole box and dice before deciding who to vote for.

  19. Togret, the real world is in a mess, little doubt about that. The science is ignored whenever a quick buck is to be made, as with Gunns in Tasmania .
    The bosses dont need to hand their power over to the Greens, because they already have it under their own control. The politics of the last twenty years has been about the exclusion of any political unit basing its approach to development on science, lest this interfere with profits.
    Far from handing power over to the greens, the politics has been about making sure they, as with any other independent grouping in the past, cannot interfere, in the public interest, with businesses chase for the big quid, regardless of harm done to the common wealth, with the mess left for future generations to cope with.
    No funny plots. The reality of politics is both more squalid and mundane, if less spectacular, but just as likely to the threaten civiilisation as any two-bit conspiracy theory emanating out of America.

  20. Paul Walter:

    Then why do you think Al Gore is using money from various superannuation holdings for his Green ventures?

    Can you not see a tie-in between Green ideology and huge corporations robbing us blind?

    Farmers are being driven from their land using Green Programs. Rudd’s great big tax on mining will clear rural areas of their populations, and increase foreign debt.

  21. Farmers are being driven from their land using Green Programs. Rudd’s great big tax on mining will clear rural areas of their populations, and increase foreign debt
    heres a silly thought
    why dosent the govt support australian companys who do mining with the money they get from this tax
    then other companys who strip the land and cheet the ppl of most of the profits who dont like it can go elce where the trick is when they take and cheet other places and ppl our gold oil etc will still be there worth tens of thousands times more and be under control of the ppl of ausralia.

    a very wise man sead if ausralia wants to become a true leader they should nationalis all its oil gas and most other minerals then use our
    real gold and go nuclear that would do two things give us clean air and limitless clear water.
    now thats what the greens should be pushing

    as for the election in britane the labor lost it the day that the prime minister called someone a biggot because there were conserned what was happenig in there country regarding reffuges .
    sounds strangely like some where elce we know

    accademics can comment all they like they are only trying to justify there existance.

  22. I’ll be interested to see what direction/s the UK moves in with this ‘electoral reform’ thing. Proportional representation is not an unmixed blessing … and they seem rather more fragmented than we are .. although that perception might be because of the larger population. Someone might like to warn them about Senator Fielding, whose rise to fame was due only to a preference deal. *shudder*

  23. I understand that the proposed electoral reform (still subject to fine tuning and of course to a referendum which may not succeed) will not suggest proportional representation in the House of Commons, but rather Australian-style preferential voting (which the Brits call the Alternative Vote, or AV). They may try for proportional representation for some or all of the House of Lords.

    The current Senate style Above the Line voting system which allows the political parties to decides where their preferences go is, as I understand it,unique to Australia, so I don’t think a Fielding-style outcome is very likely if the UK adopted PR. But there is a reasonable chance that the overly racist British National Party would win some seats if the UK adopted PR. The BNP has already won a couple of seats in the European Parliament, which is elected using a PR system.

  24. I don’t kniw. There issomething to be said for allowing hte mindless racists a voice so it can be exposed to rational argument. Then on the other hand you get a race to the bottom to try to win a few crucial MPS to your side … democracy is such hard work at times. If only we had a monarch of our own, rather than one who had a conflict of interest every time any issue raegarding the UK comes up. Someone who takes a long view might be good.

    As a matter of interest, where do you think this puffery around Julia GIllard is coming form?

  25. Togret:

    I don’t think Red Crab is being racist. He is no doubt aware that the redistribution of populations is part of the global corporate neo-communist plan, which has already seen the demise of Greece as an independent sovereign State.

    Unfortunately Greece made the mistake of joining the EEU, thereby grossly diminishing its ability to remain independent. Then a Carbon Trading Scheme was introduced to empower corporations and to destroy the nation’s economy at both collective and individual levels, thereby requiring a trillion dollar bailout by the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

  26. But there is a reasonable chance that the overly racist British National Party

    There issomething to be said for allowing hte mindless racists a voice so it can be exposed to rational argument.

    is that not the same as the prim minister calling one of there own country men a bigot because the situation at the time didnt go there way.

    may i ask from some one who is soon to be the minority in the country they were born in
    what is your perseption of a racist or is it just an word you use to get you point across when the conversation is not gowing in your favor
    mabe its a word we need to keep because when we are the minority you and i mite need it but i think it will mean nothing then .

  27. Red Crab – until recently, the BNP only allowed white people to join their party (and only changed it because it was ruled to be illegal). It is hard to think of a more clear cut example of racism. But I agree, there is something to be said for exposing such views to rational argument, rather than trying to pretend they don’t exist.

    Togret – ditto

    (and I’m trying very hard to keep comment threads as least vaguely on topic – but I think the current Gillard stuff is just the usual journalistic habit of talking about leadership speculation wherever possible, because it saves having to examine actual issues and policies)

    (I wouldn’t worry about keeping threads more on topic if it wasn’t for the fact that otherwise every single comment thread would end up with exactly the same series of comments being made, no matter what the actual topic of the post)

  28. Lorikeet, I wasn’t calling Red Crab a racist. I was referring to the BNP, the British National Party, who seem to be unashamedly racist. They were mentioned in the post above mine.

    Red Crab: Not sure what you mean by ‘someone who is about to become a minority in the country they were born in’? Not actually sure whom you were directing it to, but I’ll have a go. To me, a racist means someone who differentiates between human beings on the basis of skin colour / cultural background / “race” because they believe that on the groups they see as being different are also better than / worse than or worthy of admiration / less worthy of it or good / bad simply becuase they are members of a particular group. i belive that is a wrong way to judge human beings.I don’t belive that people from any particular country / with any particular skin colour / of any particular religion / of any particualr cultural group are necessarily ‘better’ or “worse” people as individuals or as members of that group simply because of that one characteristic.

    I’m not frightened of being one of a smaller group of people descended from the peculiar mix of Swedish-German-Scottish-Irish-Jewish-English-whatever great-great grandfather on Dad’s side may have been that resides in my genes. I delight in what newcomers can add to our country .. the ones I approve of, that is. I approve of people who are loving to their families, share the same moral values as me, don’t hoon up and down the street drunk, swap recipes, gardening tips and music from thier homeland, among other characteristics. There were black faces in the crowd on Anzac Day morning (and in the ranks of the soldiers). Some have been here for millenia, some a matter of months.

  29. togret
    i agree with you.
    the thing is i watched insite prog this week about population and it would be interesting to watch if you have not seen it already its a perfect example of what i mean the ( r ) word was used twice and if you take the time to watch you will see buy who if i had the money i would pay for a ticket to where they would feel more at home .
    when the debate didnot seem to be going in there favor out it came
    .
    Red Crab – until recently, the BNP only allowed white people to join their party (and only changed it because it was ruled to be illegal). It is hard to think of a more clear cut example of racism. But I agree, there is something to be said for exposing such views to rational argument, rather than trying to pretend they don’t exist.

    point taken

    allthough i dont really agree with there point of veiw why cant they have a all white political party and whats stopping anyone elce having there own political party any colour they want .

    you know why they dont do it because its easy to call them names .not so easy to stand up and be counted is it andrew !

    well im off to our friday night poker game funny thing is there are nine ppl and i am the only white australian at the game .

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