Once again people are talking about “those who voted for a coalition” completing over-looking the fact that nobody did – they all voted for the candidate of their choice or (far too often and very sadly) decided that they wouldn’t vote at all. It is tempting to assume that these are people who are abrogating their responsibilities as good citizens but we should spare a thought for those who, after long and hard deliberation, decide that they are not prepared to endorse any of the available candidates.
Anyway, just for the record, I reproduce below a blog I put up shortly after the election in 2010. It may be of interest so here it is.
I want to try to find the answer two questions. Who actually determined the outcome of the last general election which was to result in a coalition? Who actually determined the candidates who became MP’s?
Before looking at some answers, the following may be of interest.
650 seats were contested meaning that to hold a majority a party needed 326 seats. No party contested all of the seats: by a remarkable coincidence the three main parties all fielded 631 candidates.
10,703,754 people voted for the Conservatives giving them 306 seats (47.1%) and 36.1% of the votes.
8,609,527 people voted for Labour giving them 258 seats (39.7%) and 29% of the votes.
6,836,824 people voted for the LibDems giving them 57 seats (8.8%) and 23% of the votes.
If we convert the ratio of votes cast to seats Conservatives should have had 234 seats, Labour 189 and the LibDems 150 with the remaining 77 going to the other parties (who actually gained 22). These ‘others’ included the Nationalist Parties of Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales plus one member for the Green Party. This would have resulted in a coalition but it would have included the Labour party rather than the Conservatives (assuming that the LibDems would have felt happier being in coalition with Labour rather than Conservative).
Out of an electorate of 45,597,461 the votes counted were 29,687.604 (65%). There were a further 303,867 votes but these were on ‘spoiled papers’.
Now to look at who determined this outcome. To start with I decided to look at any seat won by one of the three main parties where the majority was less than 2,000. That is, of course, an arbitrary figure and I later realised it was the wrong one to choose but I decided you might like to share my thought processes.
65 seats fell into that category – 10% of the total. Here are the figures.
- Seats won by Conservatives with Labour in second place: 20 with 17.567 votes.
- Seats won by Labour with Conservatives in second place: 18 with 18,680 votes.
- Seats won by Labour with LibDems in second place: 9 with 6,630 votes.
- Seats won by Conservatives with LibDems in second place: 7 with 4,848 votes
- Seats won by LibDems with Labour in second place: 5 with 7,141 votes.
- Seats won by LibDems with Conservatives in second place: 4 with 3,061 votes.
As you can see, these continue to support the view that some voters have far more power than others. Conservatives beat Labour 20 times with a total majority of 17,567. Had ‘voter power’ been equal, the 18,680 majority in favour of Labour would have produced 21 seats and not 18.
The only plausible difference would have been for Conservatives to have gained 20 more seats thus avoiding the need to enter into a coalition and so all we need to consider is the most marginal 20 seats. These include the 4 seats taken by the LibDems where the majorities were 3,061. The other 16 seats would have had to come from Labour so we can discount 2 of the results. The majority in the other 16 seats was 15,073.
So there we have it, 18,134 voters determined that we should have a coalition (not that they would have thought about it in those terms, of course. Nobody – but nobody – voted with the intention of creating a coalition). Interestingly, it would not have mattered for what other candidate this group voted (or none). Take those votes away from those 4 LibDems and 16 Labour candidates and there would have been a Conservative government, albeit with the tiniest imaginable majority.
In percentage terms 0.62% of those who voted actually made a difference. If you prefer, this is 0.04% of all those entitled to vote.
Now for question number two. In the best case scenario, a candidate is chosen by a democratic vote. My best research seems to indicate that party membership in any constituency rarely exceeds 200. Since that may be a bit low, we will work on 500. 500 people in each of the 20 marginal seats where the result of the last election was determined involved in selecting their candidate means that only 10,000 selected those 20 MP’s and I suspect the figure to be far lower than that and I could choose many examples of events that fuel that suspicion.
The selection of Gloria de Piero as Labour PPC for Ashfield (following the announcement that Geoff Hoon was standing down) was mired in controversy. This is not a problem confined to the Labour Party. As the Daily Mail reported in February 2010, the relationship between the Conservative Association in Surrey East and David Cameron became somewhat strained over the matter of selecting a candidate.
So there we have it. In this much prized democracy the vast majority of us have no say in which party will take power and even less when it comes to the people who grace the green benches in the House of Commons.