EDITORIAL VI – 2015 UK General Election Report

Good day to you all,

As the dust settles after a rather interesting election, I’d like to take the time to discuss what happened and why I think it happened. I will also take a tentative look at what is to come following the weeks result. I will present the results and examine the discrepancy between votes and seats.

The Conservative Party have won the general election with a majority of 331 seats. This majority means they do not need a second party to amalgamate with to form a coalition, much like the one that has governed us for the last five years. Exit polls, published at the end of voting but before results were announced, predicted a hung parliament, meaning that a coalition would be needed to form a government; the Conservative Party were predicted to gain 316 seats. 326 are needed for an outright majority. This is 24 seats more than they won in 2010.

Fig-1. The results of the exit polls published after all votes were cast but before any results were announced. Clicking the image will take you to the source article.

Fig-1. The results of the exit polls published after all votes were cast but before any results were announced. Clicking the image will take you to the source article.

The Scottish National Party were the other big winners, taking 56 of the 59 available seats in Scotland, after a prediction of 58 from the exit poll. The majority of the seats were claimed from the Labour Party and the Liberal Democrats. This is 50 seats more than they won in 2010. The remaining three constituencies were split three ways, with one each going to the Conservatives, Labour and the Lib-dems.

The Labour Party were the first of the big losers. Exit polls had them at 239 seats, of which they won 232, down 26 seats from 2010. Ed Milliband has since announced his resignation as Party Leader, with Harriet Harman acting as a stand-in until a new leader can be chosen.  More information about his resignation can be found [HERE].

The Liberal Democrats lost the most, predicted 10 seats in the exit polls, winning 8. This is down 49 seats from 2010. Nick Clegg has since announced his resignation as Party Leader, and a leadership election will be held to decide a replacement. More information about his resignation can be found [HERE].

The UK Independence Party were predicted 2 seats, winning 1. They retain the sole seat they won in 2010. This was not the success the party had hoped for, and losing his home constituency seat, Nigel Farage has since announced his resignation as Party Leader. More information about his resignation can be found [HERE].

The Green Party were predicted 2 seats, winning 1. They retained the sole seat they won in 2010.

I must confess that I have deliberately omitted Northern Irish politics as it is something I simply know nothing about. The coverage of the election by the Belfast Telegraph can be found [HERE]. The London School of Economics have an article on the importance of the NI vote in 2015 [HERE]. A pundit reaction from the Irish Independent in Dublin can be found [HERE].

Voter turnout was 66.1%, 1% higher than 2010, but the highest since 1997’s 71.3%.

A full breakdown of the results, from which all of the statistical data that was not calculated by me, can be found [HERE].

One of the biggest talking points to arise again following the result was the Alternative Vote. In 2011 the United Kingdom held a national referendum on whether to switch from a First Past the Post system to the Alternative Vote. This was part of the Coalition Agreement between the Libdems and the Conservatives. The FPTP system is that which we have in place now, in which the party with the most votes in a constituency wins. The AV consists of a preferential ranking system, such that if a majority is not met, the last place candidates votes are diverted to their voters 2nd choice, and so on, until a majority is met. The result of the referendum was a resounding No vote to AV with 67.9% of people voting no. Turnout was 41% of the electorate. More information on the referendum can be found [HERE]. The Electoral Reform Society and the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust led and majority funded the media campaign for the AV. More information on the campaign can be found [HERE].

Now one cannot possibly estimate how an AV 2015 general election would have gone, however, the Electoral Reform Society have started a new petition in partnership with Unlock Democracy called “Make the seats match the votes”. Unlock Democracy are another advocacy group that absorbed Take Back Parliaments’ mailing list. The page for that petition is [HERE] on the ERS website. The website for Unlock Democracy is [HERE]. An anthropologist at UCL in London (twitter: @knuutila) created a webpage for the campaign called Wasted Votes. On this page, along with a link to the petition, is a descending list of all constituencies in the general election, ranked in descending order of smallest majority winner.

Fig-2. A picture of the Wasted Votes webpage, that has gone viral. Clicking the image will take you to the site.

Fig-2. A picture of the Wasted Votes webpage, that has gone viral. Clicking the image will take you to the site.

Whether you are pro AV or not will decide if you believe those votes were truly wasted. The far more interesting point is what would their vision have delivered in 2015? I took the data from the BBC website and generated a table from which my next few graphs are drawn.

Fig-3. Data used in analysis, calculations are based on BBC data and are my own.

Fig-3. Data used in analysis, calculations are based on BBC data and are my own.

Firstly we can acclimatize ourselves by looking back to the original results, but this time we will ignore seats, and look at the votes themselves.

Fig-4. Data taken from BBC. Graph is my own.

Fig-4. Data taken from BBC. Graph is my own.

As you can see, the clear winner by raw votes is Did Not Vote, representing 33.9% of the electorate. The Conservative Party still win the largest party, with 24.4% of the votes. Even discounting the large amount of no votes, the conservatives have formed a majority government with 36.9% of the votes cast. Voter apathy is a problem that could (not necessarily should) be solved by compulsory participation. 11 countries worldwide enforce compulsory voting and information can be found on Wikipedia [HERE]. However, if somehow votes did translate directly into seats, what would the House of Commons look like? Please note this is not an estimate for an AV result.

Fig-5. Hypothetical Data and Graph My own.

Fig-5. Hypothetical data and graph my own.

Lets break this graph down. Parliament would be hung. The Conservatives still win largest party with  240 votes, with labour second on 198. The Coalitions touted before the election were Conservative-Libdem, Labour-SNP and Conservative-UKIP. Con-Lib collectively would have 291 seats, still not enough to form a government. Labour-SNP would have 229 votes, far short of the necessary total even with the Libdems on board at 280. Con-UKIP would have 322, just short of the margin, and would have most likely gone into coalition with the Democratic Unionist Party in Northern Ireland for the extra seats to tip them over the edge. This deal was suggested by Nigel Farage [HERE].

The Liberal Democrats would have lost 3rd party status and UKIP & The Green Party would have made significant gains. The result still leaves a Conservative Party, UK Independence Party, Democratic Ulster Unionist Party Coalition with approximately 330 seats. It is worth noting that in 2011 both UKIP and the DUP were pro-AV. In general this direct allocation of seats greatly benefits the smaller parties. At the same time however it makes a coalition government almost inevitable.

There is a downside to this type of seat allocation. How do you allocate the seats. A suggestion would be to allocate the seat quota in order of greatest showing, however that will still leave some constituencies with leaders they did not vote for. The results of this would largely boil down to how much people preferred fairer nationwide representation at the expense of potential less fair local representation. I would at this point provide a map, however I cannot find any tabulated data that would allow me to do the colouring in.

Fig-6. My placeholder blank canvas, image credit to David Boothroyd.

Fig-6. My placeholder blank canvas, image credit to David Boothroyd.

As a final word, Channel 4’s FactCheck  blog have done a similar calculation to me, although using the D’hondt method to allocate seats using. This gives a slightly different result to my data, and as I am not familiar with it, I cannot speak to compare. I will say that the method they used is used to elect members of the European Parliament. I do not know if it solves the geographical allocation problem. The Post can be found [HERE]. The D’hondt method can be read about on Wikipedia, [HERE].

Back in January 2011, following the coalition agreement, electoral reform of all kinds was in the air. The other large part of it was Constituency size and population. There were changes to the boundaries of some areas for the 2010 election and there were accusations of gerrymandering being thrown around as the coalition sought to assess what changes needed to be made in the mandatory 5-yearly review of boundaries. Nick Clegg used his Veto to prevent certain changes. A labour perspective to support my comments on gerrymandering accusations can be found [HERE]. A more neutral discussion of the Constituency size and population issue can be found [HERE]. It turns out that the UK has some of the fairest constituency boundaries in the world according to LSE, [HERE]. Plans to radically reform the House of Lords along with the constituencies were still tabled through 2011 & 2012 and eventually scrapped. More information on this can be found [HERE] & [HERE].

All of these efforts, conceived last parliament to enact changes to the democratic process, were dismissed either by the House of Commons, Coalition infighting or, the electorate themselves. While I can certainly say that this election has been a mixed one, I am not sure we would have been better off with the changes. Anyway, that concludes proceedings, I hope you found this interesting.

As always, if you found this informative, hit subscribe on the right, or follow me on twitter: @scientificmoust, or if so inclined, like me on facebook [HERE].

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