Ah, legitimacy

Ah, legitimacy. It has to be said, that anyone who questions the legitimacy of a Government elected under first past the post generally gets a receptive ear from me. Well, sort of. I want change, because what used to work, in the days of a simpler democracy with less crowded ballot papers, is looking like it is way beyond its sell-by date. This is illustrated by dividing the number of votes received by the number of MPs elected.

Much like the much-touted, and wrong, argument about the current boundaries that give Labour ‘an unfair advantage’ , this simple equation ignores how the electorate actually behaves. The voter is an intelligent animal, able to understand what a safe seat looks like, how to tactically vote, and how to protest vote. Nonetheless, there is a clear failure in the current system, in part illustrated by dividing votes by MPs, in part illustrated by low turnout, and in part by showing the absolute power is granted with the consent of only one in four of the electorate.

Here is how many votes it takes to elect MPs for the main parties:

DUP 23,033
SNP 25,972
SDLP 33,270
Conservative 34,243
Labour 40,277
Sinn Fein 44,058
UUP 57,468
Plaid Cymru 60,565
Liberal Democrat 301,986
Green 1,157,613
UKIP 3,881,129

A couple of things that are worth pointing out. Individual MPs are not elected by aggregating votes across the UK – an MP is elected on roughly 20,000 votes. This is true of all MPs, accepting that this varies depending on constituency size (and some other factors). It is also worth noting the special circumstances that apply in Northern Ireland (first and third in this table are Northern Irish parties).

The real losers here are the Liberal Democrats, Greens and UKIP, especially UKIP. I shed no tears for UKIP usually, but one cannot value democracy and then ignore the blatant unfairness of being able to attract almost 3.9 million voters and see the reward as a single seat.

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