Thoughts on politics and life from a liberal perspective

Friday, 24 April 2009

Why Vince Cable is unlikely to ever be in government

Vince Cable has written an excellent article for The Independent today. It quickly gets to the heart of the current economic malaise with brevity and honesty and then proposes a number of measures that could be taken now to begin to cut spending.

If you read further down the article you will see that almost every comment is strongly in favour of what he is saying and several of them lament the fact that he is not, and likely will not ever be in government. One comment in particular is almost heartbreaking from someone who is terminally ill and despite having voted Liberal/Lib Dem in every election, he has never seen a Lib Dem MP elected in any of the constituencies he has lived in. Effectively he has been disenfranchised for his entire life.

The reason is because of our first past the post electoral system. The number of votes cast bear very little relation to the number of seats allocated amongst the 646 parliamentary constituencies. For example Labour at the last election got 55% of the seats with only 36% of the vote. The Lib Dems got 22% of the vote and less than 10% of the seats.

Just to highlight how utterly unfair the system is, I have put figures into the UK Polling Report Swing Calculator to see what the outcome would be if all three main parties got exactly one third of the votes in an election. I know that is a very unlikely scenario, but just as an experiment, it is very revealing about our electoral system. Here are the results:

Discounting "Others" and Northern Ireland (which are built into this calculator), there are 620 seats to compete for. As you can see, despite complete parity in the votes (33.33% each), The Lib Dems only get 106 of them or 17%. The Conservatives get 208 or 33.5%. Labour get 306 or 49.4%. So Labour would almost have enough to form a majority government. They could certainly head a minority administration. Meanwhile the Lib Dems get only a third of the seats that Labour get despite having had exactly the same number of votes!

The system is utterly broken and massively favours Labour. The only reason the Conservatives do not want to change to a proportional system is because in a good year for them, the distortion also works in their favour by inflating their share of the seats as well allowing them to form a majority government, also on a minority of votes.

This is the reason why, despite the fact that Vince Cable is patently the politician with the clearest idea of what is wrong with the economy and the best grasp of what to do about it, he is unlikely to ever be in a position of executive power and to actually do anything about it.

See Make Votes Count and the Electoral Reform Society for more information about our broken electoral system and what can be done to change it.

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