(UPDATE 10th May below – Stephen Fry’s analysis of the situation, and discussion.)
The Tories won 306 of 650 seats – with 36.1% of the vote.
Non-Tories won 344 – with 63.9% of the vote.
Labour plus Liberal Democrats won 305 seats – but with 52% of the vote.
You’ve probably seen the staggering figures of just how profoundly undemocratic the system is in terms of weighting of votes: each Lib Dem vote was worth 1/119788 of an MP – compared with 1/33350th of an MP for Labour supporters and 1/34989th for the Tories. (Even worse for the Greens – 1/285616th each for them.) One vote one value indeed – each Labour and Tory vote is effectively counted as more than three times each Lib Dem vote (and almost nine times every Green vote). That’s not a level playing field. That’s not a system where the British Parliament represents the British People.
So I could understand Nick Clegg being prepared to support David Cameron as PM – without necessarily voting for anything he tries to implement – if Cameron was offering to remedy this situation – multi member electorates, proportional representation, preference voting. But all Cameron’s promised is to consider proposals for electoral reform – ie, more delay. Brown’s offered a quasi-PR system, but not full reform that would tackle the weighting being so heavily in favour of his own party.
Clegg should publicly announce that he’ll form a coalition with whichever of the two major parties comes to the table on PR and preference voting. If neither does, he should support neither and the country can have another election knowing that if they want real democracy where their voice is actually heard, they need to vote for someone other than the Tories or Labour.
As to what should happen with the current parliament, let’s pretend for a moment that its makeup somewhat represents British opinion. Check out this graph of where the UK political parties sit on the political axes:
If we add the number of seats each won, and remove the parties that won no seats (ha ha, BNP – although to be fair, they’re entitled to be miffed at missing out, since they received twice as many votes as the Greens), then we get the following:
(I don’t know where the independent and Alliance would fit on this graph, so we’ll have to come back to their one seat each – any figures following are +/- two votes, depending on what these two MPs advocate.)
So, for a majority on a given issue – 626 votes – there are a number of ways this could be made up. Say it was an issue of economic policy, something even more rightwing than what Labor has already done (the red vertical line in the following image being the UK status quo on economic issues) – then it looks like everyone but the DUP and Conservatives should, on what they’ve told their constituents, vote against it: 314 for, 336 against. Conversely, a policy MORE progressive economically than Labor should have 78 for, 572 against. In other words, on economic issues there’s no strong mandate to move either left or right – voters split to either side of the Labour Party. The problem with that, of course, is that the Labour Party hasn’t exactly specified what it’s planning on doing, in terms of adjustments to the status quo to deal with the country’s budgetary problems – tax increases or cuts to public services? If both, which is going to be hit hardest? They haven’t specified before the election, so on these results it’s difficult to know what the electorate actually wants.
On social issues, it seems that there’s a clear majority support for more socially liberal policies. Only the DUP is more authoritarian in that chart than Labor, and the two combined are far, far less than a majority – 266 to 384. So this parliament should support more socially liberal policies than the status quo.
Doing the same graph again with percentage of votes rather than number of seats gives the following (1.9% unplotted):
That makes the numbers a bit more towards the left on economic issues, but doesn’t significantly alter the balance on the social axis.
So, that’s what voters called for last weekend, regardless of who the PM turns out to be. The problem is that the opaque mess that is the Labour Party, still the lynchpin between the conservatives and the progressives, makes voters’ real intentions on any of the big issues incredibly difficult to discern.
If only the UK had a genuine, functioning parliamentary democracy, eh?
UPDATE (10/5): Stephen Fry breaks down my fears – basically that the Conservatives won’t ever agree to proportional representation, and if the Lib Dems cave then they’ll end up with nothing, but they will have to cave because if they don’t then any such Coalition government will fail and it’ll all be blamed on them by the Tory press and the Lib Dem vote will be decimated in a re-election. Either way, the best chance in a century for real democracy in Britain will be lost.
Only reason for hope: if Lib Dems stand for principle and their voters remember that they resisted what they clearly realised only just last week: the conservatives and their press are liars and useful only as a barometer of precisely what the opposite of the right thing to do is.
PS Is it true that under proportional representation (PR) the conservative side of politics would never have a chance of winning a majority again? Are they truly a minority perspective without any hope of real support from the electorate – and is it the case that they recognise this so well that they will scupper any talk of PR no matter what? That in their heads they are fully aware of how unpopular they are, and are deliberately making sure the system stays rigged in their favour against the public? Do Conservative Party members consciously think, we can’t persuade the public, so we’ll just have to override their votes?
I just thought conservatives were a bit selfish in their politics, not sociopathic.