The 2019 British election was held a week ago today. By now there has been considerable analysis of what happened and debates about what will happen next.
Having blogged throughout the election, I made a conscious decision not to make any comment in the initial days after. Sometimes a few days perspective can help give a clearer picture. It also means you can build on or critique the analysis of others.
A bit like a broken record, throughout this election I kept returning to the theme of the electoral system. I initially blogged about it a year ago. It remains in my view one of the more relevant elements of this and previous UK elections.
Looking at the 2019 election results and then compare these to voting numbers in previous elections, it paints a weird picture.
If we look firstly at Labour’s result. Labour has had its worst result in terms of seats in the House of Commons since the 1980s, getting only 202 MPs to the Conservatives 365. In terms of votes nationally this is how 2019 compares with the previous 4 elections:
Labour’s total national vote in 2019: 10,269,076
Labour’s total national vote in 2017: 12,878,460
Labour’s total national vote in 2015: 9,347,527
Labour’s total national vote in 2010: 8,609,527
Labour’s total national vote in 2005: 9,552, 463 (Labour won a 3rd term in office this election)
So Labour, in terms of votes it received nationally had its second best election in 15 years last week. Yet the number of seats in the house of commons it won doesn’t reflect this.
Lets do the same exercise for the Conservative Party, who won this years election:
Conservatives total national vote in 2019: 13,966,565
Conservatives total national vote in 2017: 13,636,684
Conservatives total national vote in 2015: 11,334,226
Conservatives total national vote in 2010: 10,703,754
Conservatives total national vote in 2005: 8,784,915
The Conservative vote only increased by roughly 300,000 votes between 2017 and 2019, yet they gained 48 new MPs. More bizarrely, in the 2017 election the Conservatives Party increased support by over 2 million votes, yet lost their majority in the commons.
The Liberal Democrats didn’t shower themselves in glory this election, as I previously blogged. The Lib Dems won 3,696,423 votes nationally in this election, which equates to 11.6% of the vote. Yet in terms of MPs the Lib Dems now only have 11 out of 650 in the House of Commons. The Lib Dems vote increased by 4% since 2017, yet they return to parliament with fewer MPs. Contrast this the Scottish Nationalists, who won only 1,242,380 votes and 3.9%, but now have 48 MPs in the House of Commons.
The Conservative Party on 43.6% now have a strong majority in the House of Commons. In other words 56.4% of voters didn’t vote for this government, yet it has a whopping parliamentary majority. The Conservative Party got the most votes, and undoubtably won the election. But the large majority in the House of Commons they now enjoy does not reflect the true level of their support.
But this is not a new phenomena in UK politics. In the 1997 general election Tony Blair’s Labour Government won 43.2% of the vote, yet got 418 MPs in the commons to the Conservatives 171 who in turn had won 30% of the vote nationally. In the following election in 2001 Labour’s lost 3 million votes, winning 10,724,953 votes compared with 13,518,167 votes four years earlier. However in the commons Labour had 413 MPs winning 40.7% of the vote to the Conservatives 166 and 31.7%.
Under proportional representation, it’s highly likely that Tony Blair’s Labour Government would have won the 1997 and 2001 General Elections, as likely would have Boris Johnson’s Conservative Government won in 2019. Point is, neither of these government deserve the majority the current voting system gave them. Further, it is difficult to morally justify a government having a strong majority when this majority does not truely reflect the votes it received.
Democracy is a precious thing, and not something that can be taken for granted. Having an electoral system where every vote matters is crucial to creating a decent society. It is time that the UK started seriously debating electoral reform and how to improve its democratic systems.