Ad Fontes

Politics, Theology and Christian Humanism

22 points about the election

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  1. The House of Commons we elect this week will have four more MPs — 650 MPs in total — than the last due to population increase and boundary changes.
  2. This means that the entire UK is divided into 650 constituencies, each will elect one MP.
  3. The average number of registered voters in a constituency is 68,433.
  4. Actual numbers in constituencies can be a few thousand less or more than this. You can check your constituency over at Voter Power Index.
  5. The bigger a constituency the less of a voice one has nationally, as more people than average still get only one MP. The largest constituency is the Isle of Wight with 110,000 registered voters.
  6. The smaller a constituency the more of a voice one has nationally, as fewer people than average still get a full MP. The smallest constituency is Na h-Eileanan an Iar with 22,000 registered voters.
  7. A voting system called First Past The Post is used in each constituency to elect one MP; the candidate with the most votes wins.
  8. This means that often the winner does not receive more than half the votes, with most voters voting for someone else.
  9. Gordon Brown has proposed that a system called Alternative Vote be offered as an option in the future; under AV a candidate would have to secure more than half of valid votes to win.
  10. Neither First Past The Post nor Alternative Vote are proportional electoral systems. That means that if 30% of the electorate vote Conservative, neither system would ensure that 30% of our MPs are Conservatives, as only those who cast a vote for the winner in their constituency affect the composition of the House of Commons.
  11. Proportional Representation is suggested as an alternative to our current voting system by the Lib Dems and others. This would ensure that each person’s vote has approximately the same effect on the House of Commons.
  12. PR is a concept rather than a system, and there are a number of electoral systems that are broadly proportional. The UK (except Northern Ireland) uses closed-list PR to elect MEPs, which gives proportional results but limits voter choice to predetermined party lists. In Northern Ireland, a system called Single Transferable Vote (STV) is used for electing MEPs, which many reckon to offer voters more choice over who gets elected.
  13. Tactical voting is voting for a candidate who is not one’s first choice in order to stop an even less preferred candidate being elected. For example, in a constituency where Labour and Conservative candidates are likely to receive the most votes, a Lib Dem supporter might vote Labour to stop the Tory winning.
  14. It is generally agreed that First Past The Post encourages voters to vote tactically, and keeps votes for the two bigger parties disproportionately higher as a result, leading to a two-party system. Both AV and most forms of PR reduce the need and the effect of tactical voting, and so encourage the electorate to express their true preference.
  15. A hung, or balanced, parliament is one in which no one party gains a majority of seats. With 650 seats, a majority is 326 MPs.
  16. However, as it is convention that the Speaker and his deputies do not vote, and that Sinn Féin MPs do not take up their seats, a working majority could be made with slightly fewer seats.
  17. Gordon Brown remains Prime Minister unless he resigns. He decides for himself if the election result requires him to resign. However, Parliament can vote down a vote of confidence or vote against a budget, and that would require a Prime Minister’s resolution.
  18. If the Prime Minister tenders his resignation to the Monarch, he may also suggest who she invite to form the new Government, but this is advice she may ignore. She may invite anyone who she feels may gain the confidence of Parliament, which is usually the leader of the largest party. (This gives rather important undemocratic and unaccountable power to the Monarch.)
  19. In a hung parliament, the largest party might try to form a minority government if they can reckon that the other parties will not be able to vote them down continually.
  20. A more robust option is to form a coalition government of two or three parties that together form a majority. This requires a deal that often means that the small party, or parties, in a coalition get some policies included in the Government’s agenda and a few seats around the Cabinet table.
  21. A midway between minority and coalition governments would be for the largest party to govern as a minority government but with a deal with another party that they would not vote down confidence votes or budgets.
  22. Hung parliaments are common occurrences in places where proportional representation is used. They often require political parties to find ways of working together. This is often described as leading to ‘weak government’ by our politicians, and Tories have even tried to make us fearful by suggesting that a hung parliament would lead to further economic collapse. However, a hung parliament would make the resulting Government more responsible and responsive to Parliament.

Author: Gareth Hughes

A priest of the Church of England, who is Chaplain of Hertford College, Oxford, and doing Syriac research at Oxford University.

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