Democratic reform is on the agenda now whether people like it or not. Other political forces will take advantage of this if the left sits on its hands argues Alastair Stephens
The political ‘class’ have managed to dodge the bullet of a constitutional crisis.
They thought that there would be weeks of deadlock and wrangling and that the country would be left without a government. Of course we would carry on fine without one, but that wasn’t part of their script.
The Conservatives are of course now slapping each other on the back, congratulating themselves on their, and the systems return to majority government. They can get on with pushing through their program of neoliberal reform as if nothing had happened.
They have also avoided the inevitable question that would arise with a hung parliament - if first Past The Post can no longer deliver clear election results, what’s the point of it? Normal service has been resumed.
But as Alex Polizzi would say, “Of course that's bollocks, isn’t it, darling?”
Less than one in four: a majority?
The system has not managed to return to normal service, a two party hegemony, despite the destruction of the Liberal Democrats or the return to majority government.
First of all there is the question of the Tories' own ‘victory’. Their share of vote at 36.9% was up just 0.8% on 2010 and is the second lowest winning figure in a general election since 1929 (only Blair’s in 2005 was lower). Nearly two-thirds of voters didn’t vote Tory.
This was achieved on a 66% turnout, one of the lowest ever, and barely up since the last election. And that is not to take into account that an astonishing 7.5 million eligible voters are missing from the electoral register, 16% of the eligible electorate.
Only 11 million out of 46 million eligible electors, less than only one in four, voted for the Conservative party. What kind of majority is that? You have to go back to the days before universal suffrage to find governments based on such low levels of support.
It is hardly surprising though that so many are missing from the register, why would you vote in a system where so many votes are wasted?
Most of those missing from the register are in inner city areas or are young. The former tend to be super-safe seats, and are taken for granted. Little or no campaigning happens there. You’d hardly know there was an election on.
Many of the latter also would also see their votes wasted on parties, like the Greens, that get no representation.
And here lies the greatest scandal of the election.
1.1 million people voted for the Green Party and got one seat in exchange. In percentage terms they took 3.8% of the vote, but received 0.15% of the seats.
3.8 million people voted UKIP, 12.6% of the total, and they also got 1 seat.
2.4 million people voted for the Lib Dems, 7.9% of the national vote, but they got 8 seats, just 1.2% of the Commons.
This is the same number of seats as the DUP, which took thirteen times fewer votes, just 0.6% of the national vote. And it will be the DUP who Cameron calls on to get him out of scrapes in the Commons given his tiny majority. But you can’t vote against them, they only stand in Northern Ireland.
Between them the Lib Dems, UKIP and the Greens took 7.4 million votes, (21%) but won only 10 seats (1.5% of seats)
The SNP on the other hand took 4.7% of the vote but received 8.6% of the seats.
Tories and Labour won just 67% of the vote, yet now hold 86% of the seats.
Here is a chart of the number of votes needed to elect one MP (total number votes received divided by number of seats won).
In other words comparing the bottom and the top, UKIP needs 168 times as many votes to elect an MP as the DUP, the Greens thirty times more than the Tories.
Millions of people have simply been robbed of representation by a system that is no longer fit for any purpose.
Winner takes all
The system also produces other perversities. At least Northern Ireland has a diversity of parties elected with the votes of both communities hotly contested.
In Scotland the SNP however took half the vote (50%) but won 94% of the seats.
Labour on the other hand took 24% of the vote but won just one seat, 1.6% of the total.
In the North East Labour Labour took 46% of the vote, but took 26 of the 29 seats, 89% of the them. The other three seats were won by the Tories, who took 24% of the vote. The other 28% of the vote went to UKIP, the Lib Dems and the Greens, who had not a single seat to show for it.
At the opposite end of the country in the South West the Tories won all but 4 of the 55 seats (Labour hold three in Bristol and one in Exeter). All seats west of Exeter are Tory, even in Cornwall, ironically the poorest county in Britain.
Much of the country now has single party representation, despite the vote remaining divided. First Past The Post means that in these regions Winner Takes All.
Keep calm and act like nothing's happened
The Tories obviously believe they can just “Carry On” and pretend that normal service has been resumed. Yet they have formed a majority government based on the votes of one in five adults, that only has a very slim majority, and only created by the collapse of the Lib Dem vote.
Their ability to win a majority again under this system is still doubtful.
Their chances are still looking better than Labour’s however who’s ability to win a majority ever again now looks in doubt.
Yet millions of people also voted for parties which won virtually no seats. When people who vote Green or UKIP say nobody represents them, they can do so in a very literal sense.
Some on the left oppose PR because it would allow UKIP to gain seats. All through the 19th century socialists fought for democracy even though they knew they were a minority, but they knew they would always remain so unless there was democracy. Frankly, if socialists oppose the extension of democracy because people might vote the wrong way, something is wrong.
And who was it that vigorously contested Farage in the debates?, it was the leaders of the smaller nationalist and Green parties. The deadening consensus and the obvious, media support and the manipulation of people’s (not unjustified) feeling that ordinary people are not represented any more, has allowed Farage to grow.
An unavoidable issue
The Tories will claim legitimacy for an all out assault on the welfare state from their great victory. We must remind them of their lack of mandate. The legitimacy of the political system is under question in a way that it hasn’t been for possibly a century.
The political system is likely to be remade substantially anyway as a result of the Scottish question. The Tories however will be pressing for arrangements that are even less democratic than exist at present. English Votes for English Laws will be a greater not lesser evil.
The ludicrous and unfair system of voting we have for the Commons has been shown up for what it is as millions are disenfranchised and a different sort of politics is to be seen in the devolved nations of Scotland and Wales.
Democratic reform is on the agenda now whether people like it or not. Other political forces will take advantage of this if the left sits on its hands.
Alastair Stephens has been a socialist his whole adult life and has been active in Unison and the TGWU. He studied Russian at Portsmouth, Middle East Politics at SOAS and writes regularly for the Counterfire website.