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British Electoral System Complicates Hung Parliament

May 7, 2010

The BBC has very detailed coverage of the results from yesterday’s General Election at:  The results show that while the Conservatives (or Tories) gained 97 seats (or 15% of the total number of seats in Parliament), their percentage of votes only increased by 3.8%.  At the same time, the Liberal Democrats, whose popularity increased significantly after the performance of its leader, Nick Clegg, in the UK’s first campaign debates, received a one percent increase in its vote.  However, the Liberal Democrats actually lost five seats.  The Lib Dems received 6.8 million votes or 23% of all votes casts.  Despite coming in a very strong third, the Lib Dems’ 23% of the popular vote only produced 8.8% of the seats in Parliament.

Hence, it is not surprising that the Lib Dems have been pushing for a proportional representation where 23% of the votes would have given them approximately 23% of the seats in Parliament.  Given that none of the parties managed to secure a majority of seats (thus producing a “hung Parliament”), the Lib Dems are in a very strong position to negotiate with the Tories or Labour to form a government.  A Conservative-Lib Dems coalition would control a majority of seats, but the cost could be high for the Conservatives.   Under the current system (which is similar to the American system), the Tories were able to secure 47% of the seats with 36.1% of the vote, but in a proportional representational system, 36.1% of the vote would have produced about 36.1% of the seats for the Conservatives.  This would have given the Tories about 70 fewer seats than they earned yesterday, making their victory far less decisive!

In a proportional representative system, Labour would also probably control fewer seats (29% of the vote equates to around 188 seats, and Labour won 258 mandates yesterday).  However, this system would have made a lot easier for Labour and the Lib Dems to form a coalition, as two parties received 52% of the vote between them, but now control only 48% of the seats.  As a result, if negotiations between the Conservatives and the Lib Dems fail, a Labour-Lib Dem coalition would still be 11 seats short of a majority.  This group could reach the magic number of 326 with the support of smaller, mostly regional, parties.  The Democratic Unionist Party (a Protestant party from Northern Ireland) won 8 mandates, the Scottish National Party and Sinn Fein (the Catholic party from Northern Ireland) each won 5 seats, and Plaid Cymru (a Welsh party) earned 3 mandates.  Thus, it is possible for a Labour-Lib Dem coalition, but it could be problematic, as it would probably have to depend on support from small, nationalistic parties for the government to maintain a majority of seats.

As a result, it will be interesting negotiations between the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats as to what the two sides will accept to form a new government and possibly a new electoral system.

One Comment leave one →
  1. eubeyer permalink
    May 10, 2010 7:44 am

    While the UK waits to learn the composition of its next government, the BBC has produced a graphic that explains the possible alliances:

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