Archive for the 'Voting systems and the electoral process' Category


If CON, LAB, and the SNP each got 30% of the Scottish vote Sturgeon’s party would be down to just 6 MPs

Wednesday, July 26th, 2017

The Times

Why the SNP could be in trouble

There’s a fascinating analysis in the Times by James Kanagasooriam of Populus of what would happen in Scotland’s 59 seats if the hree main parties there CON, LAB and the SNP each secured 30% of the vote. The projected seat totals are in the chart.

The balance of the 59 Scottish seats would go to the LDs which would once again return to its historical position as the third party st Westminster.

The reason is, of course, the first past the post voting system which favours those with large variations in support in different seats and penalises those parties whose support is more evenly spread.

Kanagasooriam notes:

“..Labour’s “youthquake” delivered surprising levels of support for the party. This was especially true in Glasgow and Edinburgh; particularly when comparing the Labour 2017 general election performance (27 per cent) with the Scottish parliament election the previous year (19 per cent on the constituency vote). It’s clear that younger voters, and those more inclined to want an independent Scotland defected to Labour in large numbers during the general election campaign. The Tory surge was, to a degree, expected. The return of Scottish Labour less so. Both together lead to losses that SNP politicians and advisers could scarcely believe on election night.

… a large number of 2015 SNP supporters simply stayed at home this year. Areas with the highest SNP vote share in 2015’s general election experienced the biggest decline in turnout in 2017…”

Back at GE2015, on 26 months ago the SNP won 56 of the 59 seats north of the border which was reduced to 35 at GE2017. Given the volatility of UK politics big changes can happen in short period as we saw with UKIP between 2015 and June 8th.

With so many rich picking apparently available in Scotland with the SNP’s decline the UK parties, as I was suggesting last week, should select leaders who are Scottish. LAB under Gordon Brown increased its Scottish vote share at GE2010 while falling back sharply elsewhere.

Mike Smithson


The winners under First Past The Post should rigidly adhere to election spending laws

Wednesday, December 28th, 2016


The chart above is self-explanatory and illustrates clearly how well the electoral system treated the Tories at the last election and how hard it was on the smaller parties particularly UKIP.

General elections are won in the marginal constituencies where clearly the parties focus their resources both financial and people.

But the law lays down very strict spending limits on how much can be spent by each party within each seat. Parties shouldn’t be able to buy victory simply because they’ve got most money.

After the election each candidate and his/her agent have to sign a declaration of expenses. A false declaration is a criminal offence.

So free resources that don’t cost money such as enthusiastic volunteers for clearical tasks, delivering and canvassing are at a premium. If you start paying for items like this during the official campaign period then it can eat into the maximum that’s allowed.

Earlier in the year Channel 4’s Michael Crick ran a series of reports suggesting that the Tories in some of their key targets and defences might have gone over the limit. This is now being investigated by the Electoral Commission and we await its report.

In these days hidden campaigning such as use of social media and the phone plays a huge part and tracking expenditure can be harder but it is right that limits should be adhered to.

Mike Smithson


For their own good, it can be argued, young people should be compelled to vote

Monday, February 8th, 2016

Donald Brind on cumpulsory voting

Eddie Izzard writes his own jokes. He made that very clear when I offered him what I thought was a good line he could use in pressing young people to get out and vote. “Vote and you get stuff, don’t vote and you get stuffed.”

I was touring North London marginals with the Labour-supporting comedian and Eddie was a bit sniffy about my offering. It cut no ice when I pointed out that the author of the aphorism was the young, supersmart editor of the New Statesman Staggers blog Stephen Bush.

I was reminded of the exchange by Mike’s posting last week on the political implications of the greater propensity of older people to vote – and thereby to be given “stuff” by the Tories – a variety of benefits for pensioners are locked into the system while the you are hit by cuts in housing and , unemployment benefits and maintenance grants.

Getting young people to actually use their vote was a major preoccupation of Labour campaigners – including Eddie Izzard and leader Ed Miliband. Remember his dalliance with another comedian Russell Brand?

In the runup to the election I was reporting for The Week and I posted a piece discussing the idea of compulsory voting, as a way of involving young people. . I noted that in Australia, where registering to vote and going to the polls have been legal duties since 1924, turnout in the 2013 general election was 93%.

What I found particularly striking back in January 2015 was that two influential columnists on the activists website Conservative Home were saying nice things about a private members Bill presented by the veteran Left wing Labour MP David Winnick. It proposed a law on the Australian model.

Tim Montgomerie founder of Conservative Home and a Times columnist was clearly surprised to find himself backing the idea. He told Times readers “I’m not comfortable recommending any kind of compulsion. But I’m much more uncomfortable at the prospect of Britain becoming some sort of gerontocracy where older (and richer) people decide who is in power. This is a much greater social evil.”

Montgomerie argues that “A skewed electorate produces skewed public policy.” Older people are more likely to vote so parties woo them. “That’s one big reason why austerity has fallen so disproportionately on younger people with families.” He cited housing and benefits as examples where older people got a better deal from the Chancellor George Osborne.

Another Con Home writer Peter Hoskin was clearly uncomfortable about supporting Montgomerie.  “There’s something weird and un-British about the idea of compulsory voting, isn’t there?” But he was impressed by arguments in a report by the Left think-tank IPPR Divided Democracy which showed there was is a gap of more than 20 per cent between turnout figures for 18-24 year olds and the national average. “Unsurprisingly, it’s voters over 40, and particularly over 65, who push that average up,” says Hoskin.

Hoskin came down in favour of IPPR’s suggested half way house “that voting be made compulsory, at pain of a fine, for first-time voters only. This makes sense because voting is what they call “habit forming”; once people pop to the ballot box they just can’t stop.”

Labour’s prescription is votes at 16 strongly advocated by the London Mayoral candidate Sadiq Khan. He told the Independent it was part of a package to make voting easier for the young with polling stations should be set up in secondary schools, on-the-day voting registration and perhaps online polling.  “Why do elections take place on a Thursday? Why do you have to go to a cold church hall to cast your vote? Why can’t you vote by the web? Why can’t you have same-day registration? You can get a mortgage in a day – why can’t you do the same with voting registration? If the concern is fraud, we can address that.”

Khan says “If you speak candidly to a campaign manager of any of the mainstream parties they will say that they concentrate their energies disproportionately on those they know are going to vote,” he said.

The arguments are very similar to those of Montgomerie who argues that compulsory voting is really all about forcing politicians to reach beyond their comfort zones. “It’s a 20-minute burden for voters once every four or five years but it would compel our politicians to change in fundamental ways and to build much broader voting coalitions.”

Making the political parties find a way to appeal to the 16 million people who did not vote “could have a profound effect on British politics.” He adds there would need to be strict caps on political donations “so that the rich and organised cannot find back-door ways to reassert their disproportionate influence.”

Is George Osborne listening? Almost certainly not. Montgomerie is a supporter of the social justice movement in the Conservative Party. He thinks Osborne is a flop, as he makes clear in a recent must-read dissection of the Chancellor’s record on Capx.  The disdain is probably mutual.

Donald Brind


Those who actually vote are getting older and this has big political implications

Thursday, February 4th, 2016


New report warns that policies will be even more geared to the oldies

The chart above is from the Intergenerational Fairness Foundation (IF) a think tank researches fairness between generations. It believes “that, while increasing longevity is welcome, government policy must be fair to all generations – old, young or those to come.”

As a result of medical advances and having healthier lifestyles we are living longer. This combined with a far lower participation level in the political process amongst the younger age groups is driving the trend towards the average age of those who actually vote going up.

Developments such as individual voter registration are exacerbating the age balance movement and, inevitably, policies become geared to voters rather than those groups who are less likely to participate.

This is all good news for the Tories. Indeed one of the reasons for the GE2015 polling fail was that the very old age segments were not featured strongly enough.

Buzzfeed which has an interesting report on the issue notes:

“The report, released on Thursday, said young voters had already suffered the “systematic removal of their welfare protections” – such as housing benefit, unemployment benefits and maintenance grants – to fund £5 billion of “universal benefits” for the old.

To counter Britain’s changing age profile, older people must be encouraged to vote in the long-term interests of their children and grandchildren, it said.”

This is not a new issue but it is not one that is going to go away.

Mike Smithson


Electoral reform might not be the panacea the left hope it is

Sunday, January 24th, 2016

Con Majority

If the 2015 general election had been fought under PR, the Tories would most likely still be in government (probably in coalition with UKIP)

There’s a very interesting story in today’s Independent on Sunday.

Tim Farron, the Liberal Democrat leader, is in secret talks with Jeremy Corbyn about voting reform in a bid to form a progressive electoral alliance against the Conservatives.

Mr Farron’s aides are talking to a Labour MP a close ally of Mr Corbyn who is acting as a conduit between the two leaders, The Independent on Sunday can reveal.

However, for the talks to progress, the Lib Dems want a respected senior figure in the Labour Party to take on a formal role as a go-between. “It should be a former Cabinet minister, or someone of that rank, said a Lib Dem source.

The Scottish National Party, Plaid Cymru and the Greens could also be involved in the talks, the source said. If the  negotiations are successful, up to five left-of-centre parties could stand on an agreed platform of voting reform at the 2020 election giving them a mandate to scrap Westminster’s first-past- the-post system without a referendum, so long as they are able to secure a majority in the Commons. Ukip also backs electoral reform, but is unlikely to enter into a pact with Labour or the Liberal Democrats.

Whilst it isn’t a formal pact, merely if the parties end up in government in 2020 they will change the voting system without a referendum. This might sound like a good idea if you don’t like the idea of a Tory government, but The Electoral Reform Society last summer produced a report showing what the general election result would have been if it has been fought under different (proportional) voting systems.Â

As we can see below, under the various PR systems, we would likely see a Tory/UKIP coalition, indeed some Tories might well regret not voting for AV in the 2011 referendum, as they would have done better under AV than under First Past The Post.

At the general election, in Great Britain, The Tories and UKIP polled 50.7%, some recent polls have the Tories and UKIP polling well above 50%, whilst it would be the height of arrogance to assume all UKIPers would vote Tory under a form of PR, it is easy to see under a more proportional voting system how the Tories would remain in power, especially against a Corbyn(esque) Labour leader.

I’m astounded given Corbyn’s dire polling, why the Lib Dems (or anyone else) would want to form an alliance/understanding with a Jeremy Corbyn led Labour Party on any topic. Political osmosis would take place, and the other parties in this alliance/understanding could be tainted by association with Corbyn’s more interesting views and policies. Instead of spending time on changing the voting system, it might be wiser for these parties to come up with policies that change the minds of the voters, especially Tory voters.



Corbyn’s English challenge

Sunday, September 13th, 2015

Labour need to stop piling up votes in their safe English seats

Looking at the chart above we can see that in England Labour did best where it didn’t need to and the Tories did best where they did need to do well. In England overall there was a swing of 1.1% from the Tories to Labour but in the crucial battle ground of the fifty most marginal Tory held seats there was a swing of 0.9% FROM Labour to the Tories.

One of the reasons for this was probably down to Labour’s much hyped ground game being focussed in the wrong places. A few months ago Labour’s Jon Ashworth, MP for Leicester South, said he and his canvassing team between January and May of this year had 16,000 doorstep conversations in his constituency. Which struck me as odd. Why were Labour wasting resources in a safe seats like that when there were winnable marginals seats in the Midlands that Labour needed to gain to become the largest party/have a majority?

This was comfort canvassing by Labour, those resources should have been focussed on places like Warwickshire North and Sherwood. In those Tory held hyper-marginal seats of Warwickshire North & Sherwood the Tory majority went up from 54 and 214 respectively to 2,973 and 4,647. Across England there are other examples like this from Stockton South to Nuneaton to Waveney. This explains in part how the Tories increased their lead over Labour in seats despite Labour reducing the Tory lead in the popular vote in England.

If Labour have any hope of taking power in 2020 they need to stop piling up votes in safe seats and start winning them in Tory held marginal seats. I’m not sure Jeremy Corbyn is the man to achieve that as I expect Jeremy Corbyn will be even less appealing in the Tory held marginals than Ed Miliband was.

Many thanks to PBer Disraeli for producing the figures that this article is based on.



With so much potential tactical voting the overall national party vote shares won’t mean as much

Wednesday, May 6th, 2015

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Tomorrow is about seats not national vote totals

There’s lots of talk at the moment about the electoral “system being bust” and “no longer fit for purpose”. What is being pointed to are possible disparities between national aggregate vote shares and the total of MPs each party ends up with on Friday morning.

Yet as we’ve seen strikingly in Monday’s ICM Hallam poll or last week’s Ashcroft survey in Jim Murphy’s Renfrewshire East a very large slab of electors on Thursday will not be voting for the party of their choice but seeking to ensure a specific outcome in their seats.

The readiness of Hallam CON voters to switch to Clegg to stop LAB is a good pointer to other LD defences as well as what might happen North of the Tweed. There the scale of the potential switching by those in favour of the union could be signifcant and the SNP might not sweep up quite as much as some polls have suggested.

The huge differential in 2010 LD voting patterns highlighted in last week’s ComRes poll of English LAB-CON battlegrounds is another pointer. The overall closeness of the election appears to be causing people to think more closely about how best they can use their vote.

    Because it is clear that many are not voting for their allegiance winning the national aggregate vote will mean less. The election is about seats.

If the Tories are not the national vote winners you can see them pointing to places like Hallam and Scotland to suggest that those figures are less meaningful in the likely post-election legitimacy debate.

This is a direct product of first past the post. If people want to make their vote count then they might vote differently so adding up national vote totals doesn’t tell you as much.


Mike Smithson

2004-2014: The view from OUTSIDE the Westminster bubble


A record-breaking 469,047 registered online to vote yesterday before the midnight deadline

Tuesday, April 21st, 2015

On the face of it this is good news for LAB

On top of the online registrations a further 15,965 people registering by post. The total who signed themselves up was the equivalent of well over 750 people for each parliamentary constituency or roughly one percent of the electorate.

According to Wired of those who registered yesterday “152,000 were aged 25 to 34 with 137,000 aged 16-24. People aged 35 to 44 were third on the list with 89,500 registrations.”

These are big numbers and suggest a high level of interest in the election particularly from demographic groups who normally have the lowest turnout levels. They are also segments which tend to be more pro-LAB than those up the age scale.

I’m coming to the view that overall turnout could be around the 70% mark.

What I find odd is that pollsters don’t routinely ask whether those in their samples are registered. This, surely, is something they should be doing.

Mike Smithson

For 11 years viewing politics from OUTSIDE the Westminster bubble