2001 election - first past the post and labour's landslide
The disproportionality of the current first past the post electoral system was highlighted once again in the June 2001 election. Labour celebrated an enormous majority with little more than 41% of the popular vote (indeed given the low turnout, only 25% of the electorate actually voted positively for the government). Had the election been fought using a party list system where seats are allocated proportionately to votes cast, then Labour would have secured only 268 seats and they would have failed to secure a commons majority. This is shown in the chart below.
The Conservatives suffered in reverse, they secured 32% of the vote but only one quarter of the seats. Likewise the Liberal Democrats won 52 seats (8% of the total up for grabs) with 18% of the national vote. Their success in adding 6 seats to their total has come because of targeting marginal seats and encouraging anti-Conservative tactical voting. Their increasing presence and power base at local government level has also made them a more effective fight-force in national elections.
Structural bias in favour of Labour
Since 1987 the British electoral system has become increasingly biased in favour of Labour at the expense of the Conservatives. Labour benefits from the fact that it represents constituencies that have smaller electorates and lower turnouts than the Conservatives. This is partly due to the steady migration from Labour inner-city constituencies to Conservative small town and rural constituencies, and partly because the Representation of the People Act stipulates that Scotland and Wales, which happen to be overwhelmingly Labour, should have smaller constituencies than England.
The tactical voting effect
Anti-Conservative tactical voting has distributed Labour and Liberal Democrat support more efficiently across constituencies. The true scale of tactical voting is difficult to measure - and more focused attempts to encourage tactical voting through the internet made virtually no impact in the 2001 general election. But in 2001, tactical voting did help to maintain Labour support in their most vulnerable seats in the south east. The Conservatives gained just four of Labour's thirty most vulnerable seats and moved closer to gaining only three others; the remaining twenty three seats swung further to Labour.
Labour supporters also helped the Liberal Democrats to hang onto their marginal seasts. Of the eighteen Liberal Democratic seats under greatest threat from the Conservatives, only two were lost and only two moved closer to the Conservatives. The other fourteen swung further to the Liberal Democrats (in fact there was a national swing in their favour.)
On one estimate, the electoral system has become so disproportional to Labour's benefit that at the next election that Labour would win with a majority of nearly 80 seats if both parties took an equal share of the national vote. By the same calculations, the Tories would need to be nine percentage points ahead of Labour to become the leading party in Parliament in terms of seats won - but this would be insufficient to form a stable government.
The likelehood is that Labour and the Liberal Democrats might enter into a coalition to deprive the Conservatives of a fresh period in office. On a uniform swing, the Conservatives would need to have a 13% swing from Labour to secure an outright Parliamentary majority.
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