Posts Tagged ‘Proportional Representation’

Last week I discussed in more detail the results of the 2015 General Election in the Disunited Kingdom. As I mentioned a few times in that post, the DUK general election uses the ‘first past the post’ (FPTP) system. For anyone not familiar with this system, is simply means that the DUK is divided up into 650 constituencies (with roughly the same population in each); then in each constituency there is a vote. The party who wins the most votes in that constituency returns a member to Parliament, a Member of Parliament (MP).

Back in the days when, at least in England, politics was dominated by two parties, the FPTP system worked reasonably well. But, if you think about it, even with two parties it is mathematically possible for party A to win more seats than party B, even though they get less of the popular vote. Nowadays the system is clearly flawed, as in addition to the Conservative and Labour party (who have dominated DUK politics for the last hundred years), the Liberal Democrats, the United Kingdom Independent Party, the Green Party and, in Scotland and Wales the Scottish Nationalist Party and Plaid Cymru respectively also stand.

What would the seats in the new Parliament have looked like if the DUK had a system of proportional representation (PR)? I am very far from being an expert on PR, but my understanding is that there are several different types, so I am just going to discuss the simplest. I will look at the number of seats each party would have won in each of the DUK’s countries following the percentage of the vote they won there.

PR in England

As we saw in my blog last week, in England there are 533 seats. Of these, the Conservative party won 319 of the seats (59.8%), Labour won 206 (38.6%), Lib Dems 6 (1.1%), UKIP 1 (0.025%) and the Green Pary 1 (0.025%). In terms of percentages of the vote, the Conservative party won 41% of the vote, Labour 31.6%, the Lib-Dems 8.2%, UKIP 14.1% (more than the Lib-Dems, even though they only got 1 seat) and the Green Party 4.2%.

If the election had been determined by a simple PR, then the Conservatives would have won 220 seats, Labour 169, the Lib Dems 45, UKIP 76 and the Greens 23 seats. Notice how different this is to the actual result, where UKIP and the Greens got only one seat!

PR in Scotland

As we saw last week, in Scotland the Scottish Nationalist Party (SNP) swept the board, winning 56 of the 59 seats there. The other three main parties shared 1 seat each, with UKIP and the Greens not getting any. But, if Scotland had PR the results would have been quite different. The SNP got 50% of the vote, and so would have ended up with 30 seats, Labour got 24.3% and so would have got 14 seats, the Conservatives got 14.9% so would have got 9 seats, the Lib Dems got 7.5% so would have got 4 seats, UKIP got 1.6% so would have got 1 seat, and similarly the Greens would have got 1 seat from their 1.3% of the vote.

PR in Wales

In Wales, the Labour party returned 25 of the 40 MPs, with the Conservatives winning 11 seats, Plaid Cymru 3, and the Lib Dems 1. Neither UKIP nor the Greens won any seats in Wales.

In terms of the vote, Labour got 36.9%, the Conservatives got 27.2%, the Lib Dems got 6.5%, Plaid Cymru 12.1%, UKIP 13.6% and the Greens 2.6%. If we translate these percentages into seats of the total of 40 we would get Labour with 15, Conservatives with 11, Lib Dems with 3, Plaid with 5, UKIP with 5 and the Greens with 1.

PR in Northern Ireland

In Northern Ireland, the DUP won 8 of the 18 seats, Sinn Fein won 4, the SDLP won 3, the UUP won 2 and “other” won 1. The percentage of the votes was DUP 25.7%, SF 24.5%, UUP 16%,SDLP 13.9%, APNI 8.6% and UKIP 2.6%. So, had NI been using proportional representation, the DUP would have won 5, SF 4, UUP 3, SDLP 3, APNI 2 and UKIP 1 seat.


Using the simple way I have calculated this, the number of seats in the House of Commons for each of the parties would have been

  • Conservatives 240
  • Labour 198
  • Lib Dems 52
  • UKIP 83
  • Greens 25
  • Scottish Nationalist Party (SNP) 30
  • Plaid Cymru 4
  • Others (NI parties) 18

These numbers will be different depending on exactly how the proportional representation is done, but you get the idea. Below is a graph from the BBC, which went along with this story on PR. The clear parties to gain from a PR system would be UKIP and the Greens. UKIP only got one seat, but under PR this would go up to over 80! The Greens also only got one seat, but under PR they would have 25.

A comparison of the total seats won in the House of Commons under the "first past the post" system and using proportional representation. The big winner under such a PR system would have been UKIP

A comparison of the total seats won in the House of Commons under the “first past the post” system and using proportional representation. The big winner under such a PR system would have been UKIP

With PR, the Conservatives would still have the most seats in the Commons, but would not have an overall majority. This, of course, would mean they would have to work with other parties to pass legislation. For the figures I have worked out, with 240 seats and 325 requiring a majority (there are 650 seats in total), even working with UKIP’s 83 seats would not have been enough. But, it would have been fairly easy for them to also get some of the 18 members from Northern Ireland on board, as the politics of several of the parties in NI is reasonably close to Conservative ideas in terms of economic policy etc.

There was a referendum on reforming the voting system in 2011, and most people voted no. I wonder whether the same result would be returned if the same referendum were held now?

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