Thursday 6 May 2010 – UK General Election

Today’s the day when the United Kingdom goes to the polls to elect its Government.  It may be a new one, or it may be the old one back in again.  If you don’t know how our system works, I’ll try and give you a brief overview.  Once every five years or so we elect 650 Members of Parliament from every corner of England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.  Should one of the parties end up with more than half of the MP’s then the are asked by the Queen to form the government. The leader of this party becomes Prime Minister.  It is usually the case that one party or another will gain enough MP’s to form the government in its own right.  Occasionally this doesn’t happen and we have what is called a ‘hung parliament’ with no party having an absolute majority.  In this case (usually) the party with the largest number of seats will try to do a deal or deals with some of the other parties to enable it to have an overall majority.  However, since the parties won’t be able to agree on all issues, this doesn’t usually create an arrangement that lasts for very long – so another election is the usual outcome of this.  The last time this happened was was back in 1974 when in February the Labour Party won the most seats but not an absolute majority.  A second election in October resulted in a Labour majority of just 3 seats.

The system used in the UK is the first-past-the-post system and this means that the party with the most MP’s may not necessarily be the party with the greatest percentage share of the vote.  Here is a simple explanation – it has to be simple as I have thought it up.  In constituency A, party Z wins with a total of 40% of the vote.  Party Y had 30%, party X 20% and various others shared the remaining 10%.  In constituency B, party Y wins with 40%, party X got 30% and party Z had just 10% with the others sharing 20%.  Already you can see that with just two seats, although parties Y and Z have one seat each, party X has an average of 25%, party Y 35% and party Z 25%.  When this is multiplied over the whole 650 seats the effect is obviously more marked.  When Labour won that October 1974 election, they had 319 seats (in a parliament of 635 MP’s) which represented a total of 50.24% of the seats (an overall majority) but just 39.2% of the total votes cast.

Obviously it’s flawed, but it’s the system that we’ve got, so no use belly-aching.  I’m gonna have some lunch and then probably take a wander down to the polling station to cast my vote and no, I’m not telling you for who I’m going to vote.

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