Comment – Getting things in proportion

Comment – Getting things in proportion


Suddenly everyone is talking about how unfair the General Election was to the smaller parties and how things would be better with proportional representation (PR).

Yet only in 2011 when the idea itself was put to the vote in a referendum on whether to adopt the ‘Alternative Vote’ (AV) system it was overwhelmingly rejected by the great British public by 68% voting ‘no’ to 32% voting ‘yes’. Many argued including the Electoral Reform Society the proposition for the AV system was not in fact truly proportional. UKIP although officially supporting the ‘yes’ vote, with Nigel Farage on the same platform as Nick Clegg, did e-mail members informing them they may vote ‘no’ but were not allowed to campaign.

Voters under the Alternative Vote system rank candidates in order of preference by putting a 1 against their first choice, a ‘2’ against their second choice and so on. Candidates are elected outright if they gain more than half of the first preference votes. The candidate achieving the least amount of votes is eliminated and their votes are redistributed according to their second preference. The process is repeated until one candidate achieves the magical 50% and is elected.

The two beneficiaries of the existing ‘first past the post’ system are of course the two main parties Labour and Conservatives. In 2011 Labour adopted no official position but the Tories vigorously argued for a ‘no’ vote led in the charge by David Cameron. The Tories had strange bedfellows with Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionists and Ulster Unionists, the British National Party (BNP), Irish Green Party (Northern Ireland), Respect Party (George Galloway) and the Communist Party of Great Britain all urging a ‘no’ vote.

In Worthing under the AV system Tim Loughton in East Worthing & Shoreham would have failed to be elected on the ‘first preference votes’ as he achieved less than 50% (49.5%) and ‘second preference votes’ of the eliminated candidate would have had to be taken into account. Sir Peter Bottomley in Worthing West with 51% would have comfortably been elected on first preference.

Both UKIP and Greens are calling foul in the recent General Election as they achieved nationally 12.6% and 3.8% of the vote respectively but only received one seat each and the Scottish National Party only achieved 4.7% of the vote but received 56 seats. On a strictly proportional allocation the distribution of the 650 seats would have been Conservatives 240, Labour 198, UKIP 82, Liberal Democrats 51, Scottish National Party 31, Greens 25 and others 24 (mostly Northern Ireland and Plaid Cymru). The National Health Action Party would have got one seat. The Tories would have naturally still been the largest party but a coalition of some kind would have been inevitable.

A local convert to proportional representation is Offington Tory Cllr Louise Murphy who posted on her Facebook Page the Electoral Reform Society’s photo showing the unfairness of the ‘first past the post system’ giving the Scottish Nationalists 56 seats.

But Ms Murphy should be careful what she wishes for, as on a strictly proportional basis the Tories would not have achieved a clean sweep in the recent Worthing Borough Elections. The allocation of the 11 available seats would have been Conservatives 5, UKIP 2, Labour 2, Liberal Democrats 1 and Greens 1.  And if the same allocation applied to the whole council of 37 seats – Conservatives 16, UKIP 7, Labour 6, Liberal Democrats 4 and Greens 4. Again a coalition would be on the cards.

We are fairly certain Ms Murphy’s Tory colleagues would not vote for that but Labour would be foolish not to.

Worthing Daily is in favour of proportional representation – it would certainly bring Worthing some interesting results.

Worthing Daily