Vir Cantium

I'm right, you know …

Category Archives: Election Anoraks

Electoral Reform – Making the Best of a Bad Idea

Thirteen years ago, with a different election result, we could have seen a new Labour government forming a coalition with the Lib Dems, with electoral reform as their power broker’s fee. Of course, it never happened, though 1998 saw the Jenkins Commission recommend an Alternative Vote system

So it’s taken this long for Gordon Brown to suggest a referendum on electoral reform. (Is there an election in the offing? Maybe a hung parliament?)

Now there hasn’t, as yet, been any large organised campaign in favour of First Past The Post (FPTP), mainly because there hasn’t had to be, even though a number of different systems have been trialled in other elections, with varying degrees of success. “Success” being, as it has to be in politics, whatever you want it to be.

Discussions around electoral reform often settle around PR, which is based on the assumption – challenged too rarely – that a body of representatives that directly reflects the proportion of votes cast is “fair”.

Yet what is proposed today is AV, which is not strictly PR, rather a system that still retains the constituency link. Like PR, though, it tends to benefit more the smaller parties and – let’s be honest – the Left, which has been more prone to factionalism than the Right, at least in the UK. Not that that is in any way the Government’s motivation, is it? By getting electoral reform of some description in then open before the election, any coalition process with the Lib Dems in a hung parliament will surely be smoother, with the possibly unpalatable pill of electoral reform already swallowed.

So, as a Conservative, I guess I’m should be somewhat wary about electoral reform … and I am. Whether an AV, STV or “proper” PR system is in place, the end result will typically be more coalition governments. Now if you believe that the best form of government is one where you throw everyone into a political melting pot and the best ideas will magically rise to the top and a golden age of governance, world peace and love and big hugs all round will ensue, then you might genuinely believe yourself when you say that a series of coalition governments is a good thing.

There is a great irony about those who propose systems that naturally increase the chances of coalition governments. That is: who votes for coalitions? If Gordon Brown and Nick Thingy do a deal after May to form a coalition, we will have a Labour/Lib Dem government. Fine, you may say, but (a) how is it fair that a party with maybe 18% of the vote decides who forms the government and (b) unless any ballot papers actually featured a Lab/Lib candidate, we will have a government that nobody voted for – surely even less democratic than a government formed on the back of 42% of the vote?

But wait … do Conservative have something to fear from electoral reform? Probably not, in the long term. Firstly, we should qualify that question by defining “Conservative” in the broader sense of the Conservative movement. It is quite possible that just as AV or PR favours smaller parties on the Left (including, lest we forget, the BNP) so it will also do for the Right, so we may well see a higher profile UKIP. Those familiar with centre-right politics will recognise that a large bulk of UKIP support and activism is essentially Conservative with added Euro-scepticism (which is why Conservative leaders would do well to treat UKIP voters as lost sheep to be tempted back to the flock, rather than xenophobic outcasts to be shunned).

Some of my fellow Tories may fear the Conservative/Lib Dem 1-2 which voters may plump for, as the electors make the common mistake of thinking that the Lib Dems are somehow in the centre, to the right of Labour. Yet after a term or so, it is more than possible that centre-right voters will default to a Con-UKIP / UKIP-Con combination. So, not only would the Lib Dems not fair as well as they have been hoping for decades under a new system (and that’s not counting what a stronger Green vote would do their core support), but the possibility exists for many right-wing ideas to still find their way to fruition as part of Conservative/UKIP coalition in a electorally reformed future.

Blaming The System

Apparently:

Gordon Brown is to announce plans to look at a new system of electing MPs, as he seeks to regain the political initiative after a week of turmoil.

He wants a debate on whether the vote system should change but will pledge a referendum on any move to do so.

Ministers are thought to have discussed an alternative vote system to replace the current first-past-the-post method.

Gordon Brown, as usual, despite any talk of principle on his part, has pulled this issue out of the blue as a diversionary tactic. A bolt-on to the issue of MP expenses which, is typically ham-fisted.

However, let’s not denigrate his Mandelson’s political acumen too much – this is a careful positioning with a view to post-election hung parliament negotiations. Although an Alternative Vote system (being touted as the preferred, ahem, alternative) is not a true PR system, even that change would not doubt be attractive to the LibDems. Brown, remember, waited ten long years for power. Events of the last two years have shown that he will do anything to hang on. Bear in mind also, that he is blind to the downright contempt that the general public now have for him and Labour (and, to be fair, politics in general). Down in the bunker, he probably still thinks that he can pull it off.

Even so, whatever the circumstances, it is time to start making the case for First Past The Post. Daniel Kawczynski made a rallying call on ConHome last week. If a referendum is to be held on the subject, supporters of FPTP will have a number of decades of quiet campaigning by the likes of the Electoral Reform Society to counter.

To some, proportionality and fairness go hand in hand. The question of why a parliament that exactly represents the proportion of votes across the country is therefore of a “fair” make-up is never even thought of.

Then there is the major downfall of PR systems: coalition. There, again, is a concept that some would never even consider to be a downside. However, coalitions are not always the fluffy love-ins that the politically uninitiated may regard them as. Coalition governments are inherently unstable (so is a dictatorship, you may say – don’t be silly, I say). In any case, coalitions are usually made up of a main party and one or two minor partners – that is, parties with, very small proportions of the vote decide who is in government and which of their policies will be put into practice. What is worse: a party with, say, 40-odd percent of the vote putting together a government, or one with only 10% doing so?

Yet there is a more fundamental objection to coalition government: rarely do coalitions appear on the ballot paper (even if you count the SDP/Liberal Alliance). So you end up with a government that nobody voted for. What was that about “fairness”?

London Election Stats

I am indebted to Croydonian for alerting me earlier this week to the release of the London election results broken down by ward*. Enjoy!

(Health warning for LibDems: You won’t enjoy this. As you’ll see further below, if these results were repeated in the 2010 council elections, you would end up with fewer councillors than the BNP.)

Firstly, the main contest …

Biggest Boris Vote
1. Stanley Ward (R.B. Kensington & Chelsea) 79.96%
2. Royal Hospital Ward (Kensington & Chelsea) 79.68%
3. Knightsbridge & Belgravia Ward (Westminster) 78.59%
Inner London average 36.24%
Outer London average 48.35%

Biggest Livingstone Vote
1. East Ham North (Newham) 73.42%
2. Green Street West (Newham) 70.92%
3. Southall Broadway (Ealing) 69.77%
Inner London average 43.80%
Outer London average 31.97%

Biggest Paddick Vote
1. The Wrythe (Sutton) 20.02% (Even here, Livingstone polled around 2.5% higher, and Boris over 26% more)
2. Wandle Valley (Sutton) 19.43%
3. St. Marks (K.C.) 19.28%
Inner London average 10.21%
Outer London average 9.49%

Now as any fule kno, it was Outer London that won it for Boris, with a 12 point lead in the outer boroughs, against Ken’s 12 point lead in the inners. Only with the ward results, and the resultant borough breakdowns, is this even clearer than when just comparing GLA constituencies, some of which straddle inner and outer London.

Although the gap was roughly equal and reversed between inner and outer London, it is clear that outer London, with approximately 800,000 more voters, was going to have the edge. Also, the inner London wards may have registered the very highest vote shares, but with the average ward size in outer London being approximately 500 voters larger, the Conservatives’ doughnut strategy was thoroughly vindicated.

“But but but..” cry the Lib Dems, “you’re only counting first preferences. That’s not fair.” Yes I am, and yes it is.

Moving on, with such a presidential style contest some focus has been given to the extra boost that that the mayoral candidates give to the “normal” party vote. Let’s compare the mayoral vote share (yes, first preferences again) to the party list “London Member” vote and look at the “premium” that the mayoral candidates gave to their parties.

Boris Premium
Highest in Mayesbrook (Barking & Dagenham) 24.64%
Lowest in Southall Broadway (Ealing) 2.88%
Overall 8.57%

Ken Premium
Highest in Spitalfields & Banglatown (Tower Hamlets): 31.50 %
Lowest in Eastbrook (Barking & Dagenham): 0.37%
Overall 9.42%

Paddick “Premium”
Highest in Thames (Barking & Dagenham): 3.27%
Lowest in Teddington (Richmond): -17.51%
Overall -1.61%

Not brilliant news for poor old Brian, then – he actually generated a negative premium – a “Brian discount” if you will. Well, as he has effectively said, the Lib Dems are rubbish at campaigning in London now. (Bad workmen and all that, Brian?)

So looking ahead to 2010, which could be the safest wards in London? Here are the final redoubts, based on the party list votes (as opposed to the mayoral votes – see above) for each party which scored a majority in any ward, which therefore includes the BNP and Greens:

Safest Conservative Ward
… by majority: Royal Hospital (Kensington & Chelsea) 65.41%
… by vote share: Knightsbridge & Belgravia (Westminster) 77.25%

Safest Labour Ward
… by majority: Southall Broadway (Ealing) 49.59%
… by vote share: Southall Broadway (Ealing) 64.94%

Safest LD Ward
… by majority: Muswell Hill (Haringey) 3.62%
… by vote share: Teddington (Richmond): 33.93% (but still beaten by the Conservatives)

In fact, based on these party list votes, the Lib Dems would take only two other wards in the whole of London: Alexandra (also Haringey) and Cathedrals (Southwark). The BNP would have more councillors, with eight wards.

Safest BNP Ward
… by majority: Mayesbrook (Barking & Dagenham) 15.67%
… by vote share: Mayesbrook (Barking & Dagenham) 38.47%

Safest Green ward
… by majority: Highgate (Camden): 0.18%
… by vote share: Brockley (Lewisham): 29.94%

And if you’ll indulge me, we’ll look at the absolute number of votes…

Largest number of votes (1st pref. mayoral)
Conservative: Hayes & Coney Hall (Bromley) 4,025
Labour: St Dunstan`s & Stepney Green (Tower Hamlets) 2,547
Lib Dem: Southfields (Wandsworth) 678

Now let’s wrap up the turnout records. I must admit I haven’t got the up to date electorate figures for every borough, most being brought forward from 2006, so take these with a pinch of salt …

Highest Turnouts
1. St. Katharine`s & Wapping (Tower Hamlets) 62.09%
2. Eastbrook (Barking and Dagenham) 59.86%
3. Stoke Newington Central (Hackney) 59.34%

Lowest Turnouts
1. Thames (Barking and Dagenham) 22.68%
2. Stratford And New Town (Newham) 22.77%
3. Cranford (Hounslow) 22.86%

Now for the booby prizes – we find out who will have to stand in the corner with the dunce’s hat on.

The most spoilt votes (1st prefs, of all votes cast) were 7.08% of ballots in Alperton (Brent)

And for the fewest spoilt papers, the gold star goes to …, the postal voters of the City, with the good burghers of the square mile only messing up two ballot papers. Otherwise, the electors in Royal Hospital ward (Kensington & Chelsea) can be smug, having only failed twelve times, or on 0.569% of ballots.

When we come to second preferences, a significant number of voters didn’t cast a vote, and this makes up the bulk (over 400,000) of spoilt 2nd preference votes. The ward whose voters were most sure that their choice would make it to the second round (or maybe they were just in a hurry) was Northumberland Park (Haringey) with 35.78% blank second preferences.

One particular category of spoilt ballot is “voting too many times”, and so we can reveal that the ward where Robert Mugabe would find himself most at home is … Plaistow South (Newham): 3.28% (95 such spoilt papers).

I think that’ll do for now. My anorak awaits its owner.

* Well, all except the postal votes, for which I only have the borough totals so far, and which I have had to ignore for the purposes of most of this election stat-fest.

Momentum

So Boris is in, but the good news for the Conservatives continued (almost) through to the assembly results.

Having yesterday dismissed our chances of gaining any top-up seats, I must happily breakfast on humble pie today and congratulate our three new London-wide members, including former Conservative nomination hopefuls Andrew Boff and Victoria Borwick, and Bexley councillor Gareth Bacon. The LibDems won’t be in party mood though – they lost 2 of their five list members, and were hammered even more than Labour across the capital, suffering a swing to the Conservatives of 5.5% (based on the constituency vote). The swing from Labour was 1.5%.

The biggest individual hit suffered by the LibDems was in Bexley & Bromley where James Cleverly scored a 10.2% swing, as well as chalking up a record and thumping 75,000 majority. Labour’s worst swing was 6.6% in Havering & Redbridge where old hand Roger Evans tightened the Conservative grip.

The one sour note was the loss of Bob Blackman in Brent & Harrow, where the Labour candidate squeaked in, no doubt on the strength of being on Livingstone’s home patch.

The headlines are focussing on Boris’ historic victory – which will be a relief to the LibDems who have struggled to make any mark on Thursday. Yesterday Nick Clegg said that the local election results were “regaining momentum”. He’s not wrong – after all, he didn’t specify in what direction the momentum was going!

Boris Boris Boris!

I will be quite happy not to see another leaflet for delivery, or another letterbox, or another canvassing sheet for a month or two, thank you.

Now, though, the count is underway for the London elections. I guess Friday counts are much more civilised – the candidate can get something resembling sleep on election night (yeah, right) – and I assume it works out cheaper than paying election staff for unsociable hours. Even so, I would imagine it lacks the atmosphere of the early hours of a Friday morning, with results coming in from around the country. And what could kill the excitement off more effectively then an electronic count? No vote tallying as the boxes are opened and their contents spilled out onto the table? What’s a political anorak to do?

Across London, Conservatives tend to have little interest in the “top-up” consolation seats, but some pundits are predicting a seat for the BNP. I have to agree that this is, sadly, quite feasible.

The BNP polled 4.84%, just below the magic 5%, in 2004. The 2006 council results in Barking and Dagenham saw them poll the equivalent of around 7,500 votes in seven wards – extrapolated across London (though more probably focussed on the traditional “white working class” Labour areas, where BNP support is most fertile), one can see that the extra 0.16% isn’t much of a hill to climb.

Interesting times ahead.