Is The Election Over – What The Tories Need To Do For Democracy

A walk around Hounslow reminded this past week just how entrenched Labour are in the minds of British Indians. Just because Labour are not in power, we should not think they are not entrenched (you will see what I mean as you read on).

Remember the Tories topped the polls before the last election and despite that were not the winners!

The 2005 election gave Labour 355 MPs over Conservative’s 197 and an overall Parliamentary majority of 66. But this hides exactly the advantages in our electoral system which is locking in Labour – let alone the British Indian mindset.

First, Labour’s dispersion of voters is such that they can at merely 36% of the votes still win an election – as in 2005. 36% is the winning post for Labour. Before the last election in 2010, they were third in the polls before the election – but still not far from 36% – the Liberals went to them first to form a pact.

Never before in the history of British elections has a party won with such a low percentage of votes as Labour did in 2005. Never in the history of British elections has a party had just enough of its voters spread efficiently so that with such a low spread of voters it can win enough seats.

To understand this – think of it this way; we have a system whereby if you win a seat by 10,000 votes, you win it just as much as if you won by 1 vote. Tory voters tend to give themselves thumping large majorities and so in a way to say the Conservatives have a poll lead is irrelevant because you are only counting a lot of people in constituencies you’ve already won not people in ones where you need to win from Labour. Labour tend to have lower majorities, but more of them – it’s just the way their vote is spread and so they tend to win more seats per voter.

This is why it is vital for David Cameron to focus on building the Party machinery, not alienating it, if he wants to stand any chance of winning.

So pronounced is Labour’s advantage that in 2005 more people actually voted Conservative than Labour in England– but the Conservatives won 92 fewer seats than Labour within England (285 to 193). Indeed the Conservatives received 60,000 more votes than Labour in England.

Put another way Labour can get 55% of the seats with only 36% of the votes cast. Whereas everyone else combined with 64% of the votes can only manage 45% of the seats – because everyone else’s votes are spread so inefficiently ie they are concentrated in fewer seats. Even when everyone other than Labour has about 65% of the votes – that isn’t enough for over 50% of the seats.

To reiterate this ‘spread’ argument – the Tories with just 3% fewer votes than Labour (33% to Labour’s 36%) got only 30% of the seats against Labour’s 55% in 2005.

But it gets worse for democracy. There was an overall turnout of 61% in the 2005 election. But that means more people decided not to vote than voted for Labour.

Indeed Labour’s share of the total possible electorate was 22% – enough for a mandate to govern! 22%! At least in Iran it’s 99% for the winning party. So if you want Labour to win what is the answer? Sit back and do nothing. If you want the Tories to win? You need more Tory voters in Labour seats where the Tories are second. What of the Liberals? You still need more Tories to win in seats where Labour are second (because the Liberals will end up with fewest seats even if they get more votes than Labour) and thereby help tip a hung parliament into a Tory parliamentary majority. It’s complicated but no one said democracy was easy.

Alpesh Patel

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