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Electoral Systems & Referenda
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Type of Election in the UK

General Election – Previously the PM could call an election whenever he/she wanted, as long as it occurred within 5 years of previous election. The fixed term parliament act was supposed to fix the length of a Parliament to a five year term, however in 2017 just two years after the 2015 election the Prime Minister (Theresa May) managed to get enough support to call a snap General Election. Previously only thing that delayed an election was war e.g. 1915 & 1940.

By-election – These elections are for a new MP in a constituency when the previous representative stands down or dies. Good barometer of public opinion towards the government. Recent examples in 2008 Crewe & Nantwich and 2009 Norwich North; both saw Conservative victories in previously Labour seats.

Local elections – Fixed term elections every 4 years. Similar to general elections in terms of campaign but turnout is lower, usually around 30% compared to roughly 60-70% for a general election.

European Parliament elections – UK sends 73 MEPs to represent 12 regions. Like local elections the turnout is usually around 30-35% but the system is different, it is a proportional system called a closed list system (more later).

Party

% vote

Seats

UKIP

26.60

24

Labour

24.43

20

Conservative

23.05

19

Green Party (Eng & Wales)

6.91

3

Scottish National Party

2.37

2

Liberal  Democrats

6.61

1

Sinn Fein

0.97

1

Democratic Unionist Party

0.80

1

Plaid Cymru

0.68

1

Ulster Unionist Party

0.51

1

European election results 2014 / Turnout – 34%

Scottish Parliament elections - Different system again (more later), voter has two votes, one for candidate one for party. There are 129 MSPs; 73 constituency MSPs and 56 regional MSPs, where there are 8 regions each containing 7 representatives. These regional MSPs are elected on a PR system.

System works well for parties that miss out with FPTP as there is a top up in the second ballot, look at Conservatives on table below.

Welsh Assembly – uses the same electoral system and there are 40 ordinary MWAs and 20 regional MWAs.

Northern Irish Assembly – uses a PR system - STV

Electoral Systems

First Past the Post System – is known as a plurality system but goes by FPTP more often. There are 650 constituencies, each one returning a single MP, they need one more than second lace to win. Must pay a £500 deposit to stand and lose it if they get less than 5% vote.

Advantages:

  • Easy to understand
  • Clear result
  • Usually gives a clear majority for the winner (except  1931,1974, 2010 and 2017); means they avoid coalition governments which are seen as slow and fragile
  • Strong link between MP and constituents
  • Public seem happy with it

Disadvantages:

  • Unfair as many times the winner doesn’t gain a majority
  • Governments usually gain a minority of support e.g. Blair in 2005 won with only 36% vote with a turnout of 61%
  • Can lead to safe seats e.g. Labour strongholds in Northern England
  • Wasted votes as many people don’t support the winner
  • Favours the big 2 parties, not the Lib Dems as there vote is spread evenly across UK; means there are really only 2 alternatives
  • Winner’s bonus due to the disproportionality of the votes and seats e.g. Labour in 2005 with 36% vote got 356 seats (55%) or the Conservatives in 2015 with 37% vote got 330 seats (51%).

2017 UK General Election Results by seats and percentage of the popular vote

Party

% vote

Seats won (% seats)

Conservative

42.4

317 (48.8%)

Labour

40.0

262 (40.3%)

Scottish National Party

3.0

35 (5.4%)

UK General Election Results 2017 / Turnout – 68.7% 650 constituencies available

Proportional Systems – based upon multi-member constituencies

List system – Can be used either closed or open but it ensures broad proportionality. Closed list (European elections) means you vote for a party and then the corresponding numbers of MPs are picked from a list put forward by the party. Can lead to candidates who toe the party line being at the top of lists

Single Transferrable Vote – Used in Northern Irish Assembly and Scottish Council elections. Voters rank candidates in order of preference and get more than one candidate per party to ensure greater choice. A pre-arranged level needs to be achieved by a candidate if they want to be elected, this is found using the droop quota. Voters can vote for a candidate not a party, the voter has plenty of choice and it is proportional.

Advantages:

  • No wasted votes like in FPTP
  • It eradicates the idea of safe seats and tactical voting
  • Government will represent the votes of the majority even if it is a coalition
  • Means that a few marginal seats won’t sway the result
  • Benefits parties who have consistent nationwide support but not concentrated

Disadvantages:

  • Breaks the link between MP and constituents
  • Could lead to coalition government, which are slow and unstable
  • Accountability for decision making may be lost, who do you blame!
  • Might be behind the scenes deals which the public would be unaware of

Majoritarian Systems – based on single-member constituencies

Second Ballot – Used in France. If someone gets 50%+ then they win; if not the rest drop out leaving the stronger candidates for a second vote. The idea is that eventually someone wins

Supplementary vote – Used in London Mayoral election. Voters have to pick their top 2 candidates; if someone gets 50%+ they win. If not the top 2 are left and the other preferences are redistributed to, in theory, give an outright majority to one of them.

London Mayoral Election Results 2012

 

Name

Party

1st Preference Votes

 %

2nd Preference Votes

 %

Final1

 %

 

Boris Johnson

Conservative

971,931

44.01 (+1.53%)

82,880

44.74

1,054,811

51.53

 

Ken Livingstone

Labour

889,918

40.30 (+3.92%)

102,355

55.26

992,273

48.47

 

Jenny Jones

Green

98,913

4.48 (+1.33%)

 

 

 

 

 

Brian Paddick

Liberal Democrats

91,774

4.16 (-5.47%)

 

 

 

 

 

Siobhan Benita

Independent

83,914

3.80

 

 

 

 

 

Lawrence Webb

Fresh Choice for London2

43,274

1.96 (-2.67%)

 

 

 

 

 

Carlos Cortiglia

British National Party

28,751

1.30 (-3.93%)

 

 

 

 

Turnout – 38%

Also used in the Police Commissioners Election 2012

Alternative vote – Proposed system for general elections, similar to SV but you can rank all the candidates. If no-one gets 50%+ then the bottom candidate is removed and their preferences re-distributed; this continues until there is a winner (used in Labour leadership elections and proposed in referendum May 2011)

Advantages:

  • Link is maintained between MP and constituents
  • Winner eventually gets 50%+
  • Tends to produce strong governments with working majorities
  • It is easy to understand, with no wasted votes

Disadvantages:

  • Can lead to deals between parties e.g. Labour telling their supporters to put Lib Dems 2nd and vice versa to keep out Tories
  • They tend to favour centre parties as they will be many people’s second choice

Hybrid Systems – a combination of systems

Additional Member System – Used in Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly (see above information on Scottish Parliament)

Party

SNP

+/-

Labour

+/-

Conservative

+/-

Liberal Democrat

+/-

Others

+/-

Total

69

+23

37

-7

15

-5

5

-12

3

+1

 

Turnout – 51.8% / 2011 Scottish Parliament Elections

Constituencies scoreboard

Party

Seats

+/-

Votes

%

+/-%

SNP

53

+32

902,915

45.4

+12.5

Labour

15

-20

630,461

31.7

-0.5

Conservative

3

-3

276,652

13.9

-2.7

Liberal Democrat

2

-9

157,714

7.9

-8.2

Others

0

0

21,480

1.1

-1.1

After 73 of 73 constituencies declared

Regions scoreboard

Party

Seats

+/-

Votes

%

+/-%

Labour

22

+13

523,559

26.3

-2.9

SNP

16

-9

876,421

44

+13

Conservative

12

-2

245,967

12.4

-1.6

Others

3

+1

241,632

12.1

-2.5

Liberal Democrat

3

-3

103,472

5.2

-6.1

Turnout

1,991,051

50

-1.3

After 8 of 8 regions declared

 

 Welsh Assembly election, 2011

 

Parties

Constituency
(First past the post)

Regional
(Additional member system)

Total seats

 

Votes

 %

+/−

Seats

+/−

Votes

 %

+/−

Seats

+/−

Total

+/−

 %

 

 

 

 

Labour

401,677

42.3

+10.1

28

+4

349,935

36.9

+7.2

2

±0

30

+4

50.0

 

 

 

 

Conservative

237,388

25

+2.6

6

+1

213,773

22.5

+1.1

8

+1

14

+2

23.3

 

 

 

 

Plaid Cymru

182,907

19.3

–3.1

5

–2

169,799

17.9

–3.1

6

–2

11

–4

18.3

 

 

 

 

Liberal Democrats

100,259

10.6

–4.2

1

–2

76,349

8.0

−3.7

4

+1

5

–1

8.3

 

 

 

Turnout – 43.7% / 2011 Welsh Assembly Elections

Alternative Vote + - Proposed by Jenkins report and it gives balance of PR to AV system.

Referendums – from Devolution to future promises

Northern Ireland 1973 – Huge yes vote regarding the maintenance of N. Ireland in the UK but some people abstained (Sinn Fein); not binding and impact lessened.

EU Membership 1975 – Vote as to whether UK should remain in EU, voted strongly to remain, issues over the wording of the questions and funding of campaign.

Scotland & Wales 1979 – Not successful in Wales but just over half supported it in Scotland yet did not achieve threshold of 40% set before vote.

Scotland & Wales 1997 – Govt bound by decision unlike previous vote. Scotland got two questions, one regarding devolution the other regarding tax varying powers. Strong yes vote in Scotland and just in Wales.

Northern Ireland 1998 – Two parts to this vote, one about the peace process and the second regarding less control from Westminster. High turnout and strong yes vote indicated the people’ choices.

London Mayor 1998 – Low turnout but positive result for wide ranging powers of a mayor over things like transport

North-East Assembly 2004 – In spite of strong locals support from businesses and the press this was rejected.

AV 2011 – Over the continuation of FPTP or a replacement in the form of Alternative Vote. Part of the coalition agreement between Lib Dems and Conservatives resulted in a defeat for the Yes campaign.

Mayoral May 2012 – Referendums in 11 British cities asking whether they wanted an elected mayor. Birmingham, Bradford, Bristol, Coventry, Leeds, Manchester, Newcastle, Nottingham, Sheffield & Wakefield. Salford voted Yes in January 2012.

Only Bristol voted yes, although the results were relatively close there was a disappointing turnout.

Scottish Independence September 2014 - Scotland voted to remain in the United Kingdom.

European Union June 2016 - The UK voted to leave the European Union.

Advantages:

  • Great form of direct democracy
  • Ask a simple question to a matter of constitutional importance
  • Give government great levels of consent over controversial issues
  • Encourage participation in politics
  • Overcome divisive issues such as EU & Good Friday Agreement

 

Disadvantages:

  • Goes against our system of representative democracy
  • Governments can only hold them when they are certain of result
  • Governments get to choose the wording of the question
  • Impact of media and funding can affect the result
  • Some issues are too complex for a simple yes/no question
  • Result might force a government to agree to something it does not believe in

 

 

 

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