Reason Why First Past the Post Sucks, #1094

I must admit to following the British election, and not just because of the fancy Dalek covers employed by Radio Times to simultaneously promote the BBC’s election coverage and the new Doctor Who.

If recent polls are to be believed, the United Kingdom is on the verge of electing its first “hung parliament” since early 1974. Here in Canada, we’ve call this a “minority parliament”, and have had a functional one for the past six years. Well, functional given a known value of functional, shall we say.

And, note here how the British public are looking to their politicians to deal with such an outcome. We’re having discussions of (gasp!) coalitions. Could it be a Labour-LibDem coalition? Or is Conservative-LibDem the only functional outcome? Or will the Liberal Democrats get to play kingmaker between the two front running parties? Who can tell? What people aren’t calling such an arrangement, you will note, is a coup d’etat. Quite possibly because these people are actually sane.

But pay attention to the seat count predictors. I noticed this in the last election as well: try playing around with the numbers, and see how very difficult it is to give the third party Liberal Democrats a working majority in this parliament. The most recent poll, from ICM, dated on April 26 is a case in point: consider the percentages:

Conservatives: 33.0%
Labour: 28.0%
Liberal-Democrat: 30.0%
Other: 9.0%

Now consider the predicted seat totals from this arrangement:

Conservatives: 245
Labour: 276
Liberal Democrats: 100
Other: 29
Number of Seats Required for a Majority: 326

So, the Liberal Democrats get to play kingmaker for the two front-running parties. They got to be happy with that… except that they finished second in the fricken popular vote!!

Labour is third! I’ll say it again, Labour is third!! And yet the predictors suggest that they’ll end up with the most number of seats — 176 more seats than one of the two parties that beat them — and nobody bats an eye!

This, my friends, is all about electoral efficiency, and the power of regionalism, and the incredible flaws inherent in our antiquated first past the post electoral system, where a vote of 33% or less in a riding is sufficient to send a candidate to parliament. The Conservatives and Labour have that efficiency, the Liberal Democrats do not. Because the nearly one third of the British electorate who want to give both Labour and Conservative two raised fingers are spread evenly across the country, they fall victim to the fact that the Conservatives concentrate most of their vote in England, and Labour concentrates most of its vote outside England.

It makes no sense, it’s dangerously undemocratic, and in Canada, it’s potentially shutting out thousands of Canadians from having a voice in parliament because their party of choice doesn’t happen to be Liberal, Conservative, New Democrat or Bloc. No wonder our turnout is dangerously low.

I suppose it’s comforting that we’re not alone in having this problem. And, you never know, maybe the British will wake up to this fact and clamour for changes in the way their governments are elected.

After all, they seem to understand that coalition governments are no evil thing.

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