A broken electoral system

Phil Parry argues that the electoral system is unfair, but says reform isn’t likely.

One overriding factor has become abundantly clear with Thursday’s election result:  the electoral system is bankrupt.

Smaller parties secured a huge number of votes but hardly any seats.

The first-past-the-post system disadvantages those parties, because their vote is spread across the United Kingdom, and it is far better to have strong support in individual constituencies, preferably marginal ones.

But I can almost guarantee the situation will not change any time soon.

This table shows how the seats would have panned out under a Proportional Representation system.







Plaid Cymru earned 181,704 votes with a 0.6 per cent share and retained three seats. They did not do too badly, but not brilliantly either.

The star of a fairly tedious campaign was the SNP’s Nicola Sturgeon, not Plaid’s Leanne Wood.

The Liberal Democrats meanwhile, have long been advocates of electoral reform.

To their credit they formed a coalition with the Tories with, as part of the reason, a belief that the British people must become used to coalition government, as happens on much of the continent.

In the deal, they insisted on a referendum on electoral reform which was of course lost, and will be used as a stick to beat those pushing for change.

We will hear a lot of:  ‘The British people were asked whether they wanted to change the system and they said they didn’t’ etc.

The Liberal Democrats political opponents will also seize on the devastation of their party at the polls, as proof that voters do not approve of groups which go into coalition.

The Welsh people have always had a strong traditional link with radical Liberalism.

But the Lib Dems now have more non-elected Welsh members in parliament than they do elected.

One of the eight elected MPs they do have is Mark Williams, who represents Ceredigion.

They have moved back 50 odd years to a time when they were revitalised under a new and charismatic leader called Jeremy Thorpe in 1967.

When Mr Thorpe was first adopted to contest North Devon in 1952, the Liberals had only six seats – and five of those were effectively won through local arrangements with the Conservatives.

The party held virtually no council seats.

Nick Clegg, their erstwhile head who led them back to that time with such a catastrophic result on Thursday night, was right to say this was cruel.

One of the strong arguments against Proportional Representation has always been that it will break the historic link between MPs and their constituencies. But how accurate is this? How many voters have actually been to an MPs surgery or even know who their representative is?

I once did ‘vox pops’ in Pontypridd town centre for Wales Today, when I asked people at random a short question, to guage their reaction to the announcement that Kim Howells was to stand down as MP.

The question was:  “What do you think about Kim Howells standing down?”

The  response, more than once, was:  “Who’s he then?”

But the system will not change.

The Tories commitment to electoral reform is non-existent, and this is only reinforced by their election victory. Their only step down the road of electoral reform will be to cut the number of traditional Labour seats by 20.

Labour for their part secured the second highest number of seats under the first-past-the-post system and it is not in their interest to unpick the situation.

They may also go back to believing ‘one more heave’ will kick out the Tories, as they did in the 80s.

This is especially true if the winner of the Labour leadership election is Andy Burnham and not Chuka Umunna.

As someone who predicted a slim, but workable Tory majority in February on the Three Muckrakers podcast – I know what I’m on about!

Phil Parry is Editor of the investigative website Wales Eye.

7 thoughts on “A broken electoral system

  1. The IWA would do well to consider the quality of those they permit to write these columns.
    This is very weak.
    – I know what I’m on about!

  2. Maybe Labour should have paid Phil the exorbitant £100,000+ fee that was apparently paid by Team Miliband to US political guru David Axelrod for his useless ‘campaign’ advice, a couple of fleeting visits and a couple of tweets. That would have been a far better ‘investment’ in the local economy.
    Listening to expensive Americans is never ever a good idea (cf.Iraq!). How dumb was that? Labour staffers should demand a not fit for purpose refund and spend it on drowning their sorrows.

  3. .

    Tenth paragraph from the end:

    “One of the strong arguments against Proportional Representation has always been that it will break the historic link between MPs and their constituencies.”

    If the system I am proposing is adopted, the link will not be broken.

    My system:

    In any constituency, the number of candidates taking part is designated as “n”.

    A voter would indicate one’s order of preference in which the candidates would be lined up, by allocating “n” to the first choice candidate, “n-1” to the second choice candidate, “n-2” to the third choice candidate, and so on, with the last choice of candidate being allocated “n-(n-1)”. The candidates’ scores, allocated by this method, would be summed up, and the candidate with the highest number would be the winner of the constituency election.

    In practice, to make it easier for the electorate to understand what they were in effect doing, in partaking in this system of voting, the voter would be asked to simply number, in order of preference, each candidate, and this numbered list would then be converted to the above form, in the vote counting system.

    There has been an attempt, in the way the system has been described, to allow for the concept that the winner gets the most votes.

    Simply listing the candidates numerically, in order of preference, would give each candidate a numerical value, with the first choice candidate having the lowest number, “1”, and the last choice candidate having the highest value, “n”. Summing these values for each candidate would generate scores for each candidate such that the candidate with the lowest score would in fact be the winner of the constituency election.


  4. I guess it also comes down to workability and ability to agree policies. At local level there is a need for good grassroots administration, and accountable local politics too.

  5. Proportional representation is a further show of how disaffected voters are from political parties.

    It is as if politics does not matter. All parties are the same.

    Each MP is a political animal with a set of beliefs offered to the voters.

    As no big party that could rule UK parliament offered us a state pension from 2016 as new pensioners, voting was irrelevant to millions of people. We are being left to Work Til die or Starve if you can’t.

    So any Plaid Cymru supporters out there.

    Will you share my petition, please, by word of mouth in your community in Wales?

    Because I understand you want to devolve welfare to Wales, as Scotland has done.

  6. Personally open minded but unconvinced on the merits of PR (I was much more pro before the AV referendum when I ended up voting no because I didn’t think the suggested system changed much at all.)

    Having looked at the ERS figures for last week, in Wales the biggest shift through a PR system would have been Labour to UKIP. Plaid would have still got 3 seats, which is even more staggering than their weak result on the night.

  7. Who are you, Mr Elwyn Jenkins and how do we know that you know what you’re on about?

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