Last Thursday’s local election results in England contain many examples of the unrepresentative nature of the First Past The Post (Winner takes all) voting system. Rather than confuse you with too many of them, we have selected just two. In both of them, the Liberal Democrats are grossly over-represented while the Conservatives are under-represented and other parties are not represented at all despite the number of votes they received.
For our first example, Liberal Democrats gained two seats in the London Borough of Sutton. They now have 45 Councillors (83%) to the Conservatives’ nine (17%), but the votes tell a very different story.
According to the Council’s website, the seats and percentage votes were:
Lib Dems, 45, 43%
Conservative, 9, 30%
Labour, 0, 15%
UKIP, 0, 8%
Green, 0, 3%
Others, 0, 1%
We show below how approximately how many seats each party would have won if the seats had been in proportion to the votes and, in brackets, the number of seats they actually won:
Lib Dems: 23 (45)
Conservative 16 (9)
Labour 8 (0)
UKIP 5 (0)
Green 2 (0)
Others 0 (0)
The exact result would depend on what kind of proportional representation was used and how people would have voted. They might have voted differently from the way they did with First Past The Post, but this illustrates how unrepresentative First Past The Post is.
It is clear that, although the Liberal Democrats were by far the most popular party, the voters collectively did not want them to have the overwhelming majority that they do have. Indeed, the voters did not give them a majority at all. The voting system gave it to them. Most people voted against the Liberal Democrats.
Our second example comes from Eastleigh, Hampshire where UKIP came second to the Liberal Democrats in a parliamentary bye-election fifteen months ago and came second again in votes on Thursday but only third in seats. Indeed they got no seats.
There, the Liberal Democrats took 13 seats (87%) for only 43% of the votes while the Conservatives took two seats (13%) for 21 % of the votes and UKIP (26%) and Labour (10%) won no seats at all.
To rephrase that, the Liberal Democrats won more than twice the number of seats than their votes merited and retained their overwhelming majority on the council although nearly six out of ten voters voted against them. The party with the second largest support was UKIP with more than one vote in four, but it got no seats. Labour also got no seats for one tenth of the votes. Compared with UKIP, the Conservatives were lucky; despite having fewer votes than UKIP, the Conservatives won two seats to UKIP’s none. However, overall and compared with the Liberal Democrats, the system treated the Conservatives badly. For about half the Liberal Democrats’ number of votes, they won less than one sixth the number of seats.
Although any Proportional Representation (PR) system would produce fairer results than these in terms of Party Representation, only Single Transferable Vote (STV) in multi-member constituencies would maximize voters’ choices, improve Councillors’ accountability to voters and provide Personal Representation in proportion to any factors (party or not), which voters regarded as important.