Last Thursday (7th of May) the (Dis)United Kingdom had a general election, and much to everyone’s surprise the Conservative Party won an overall majority in the House of Commons. Leading up to election day all of the opinion polls were putting the two main parties, the Conservative Party and the Labour Party, equal on 33-34% of the vote each; and so all the predictions were of their being a hung-parliament with no party having an overall majority. This had been the case since the last General Election in 2010, with the Conservatives governing in coalition with the Liberal Democrats; having failed then to secure an overall majority.
The first signs that the opinion polls had got it wrong was when the exit poll was released at 10pm, the moment that polls closed. The exit polls predicted an overall majority for the Conservatives, but many pundits refused to believe that the opinion polls could be so wrong. Former Lib-Dem leader Paddy Ashdown said he would “eat his hat” on TV if the exit polls proved to be correct.
When all the results were finally in on the morning of Friday the 8th, the results were quite shocking. The fact that the Conservatives had won an overall majority was one of the shocks, but probably the biggest shock was the result from Scotland where the Scottish Nationalist Party (SNP) won 56 of the 59 seats. The new political map of the Disunited Kingdom is shown below.
The number of seats held by each party is shown below.
Because the United Kingdom general election uses the “first past the post” system (which I will explain more in a blog later this week), the percentages of the vote each party got is poorly related to how many seats each party won. Below is a graph of the percentage of the vote won by each party, and the change from the 2010 election.
The SNP sweeps the board in Scotland
For me, the biggest surprise of the election was the result in Scotland, of the 59 seats the Scottish Nationalist Party (SNP) won 56. Labour, who had been the dominant party there for most of the last hundred years, were all but wiped out; and this was the main reason that Labour’s number of seats in the House of Commons fell from the 2010 election. Each of the three main parties (Conservatives, Labour and Lib-Dems) now have only one seat each in Scotland.
Given that the referendum for Scottish independence last September returned a “no” vote (55% to 45%), the rise of the SNP since then is remarkable. I am sure most pundits would have expected the SNP’s fortunes to fall after they failed to win a “yes” vote on Scottish independence, but instead their popularity has soared. I am sure the post-referendum rise of the SNP will be the subject of many studies over the next several years.
Quite what this overwhelming SNP result in Scotland will mean for the cause of Scottish independence we shall have to wait and see. The SNP campaigned on a promise of stopping the ruling party in London from continuing with austerity, which both the Conservatives and Labour felt was necessary to reduce the deficit. But, with the Tories now having an overall majority, how much can the SNP actually do to influence David Cameron’s new government?
Is the majority really 12?
Various websites refer to the Conservatives as having a 12-seat majority. This is certainly the case if one simply takes their total number of seats (331) and subtracts the number of seats held by other parties (319). But, this simple calculation has always puzzled me for several reasons.
The first reason is that Sinn Fein, the Irish Nationalist Party, do not take their seats in the House of Commons as they do not recognise its right to rule Northern Ireland and they also refuse to swear allegiance to the Queen. In this election, Sinn Fein won 4 seats, but as they will never vote on anything in the House of Commons this reduces the number in the opposition ranks from 319 to 315. This would give the Conservatives an effective majority of 331-315=16.
The second reason is that the House of Commons has a speaker and three deputy speakers. By tradition, none of these four votes on any legislation, even though they are included in the total numbers mentioned above. The current speaker is John Bercow, who is a Conservative MP, and so is included in the 331 total number of seats the Conservatives have, but as he cannot vote this effectively reduces the Conservative seats to 330. I am not sure who the three deputies will be in the new Parliament, but they do not necessarily come from the majority party. Let us assume, for the sake of argument, that one will come from each of the main parties. So, this would reduce the number of Tories to 329, and the number in opposition to 313, leaving a majority of 329-313=16, which is certainly a large enough majority for the Conservatives to be able to pass all the legislation they wish to do, unless of course they face back-bench revolts.
On Thursday I will discuss the results in each of the four countries in the DUK in more detail, and also how different the make-up of the Commons would have been if the DUK used proportional representation instead of the “first past the post” system.