Sunday, May 06, 2007

Election Thoughts


So, one or two brief thoughts about the impact of the elections, and in particular how you might use these results in the Unit 1 or Unit 3 electoral systems question.

It is a favourite question of examiners to ask about how the 'other' electoral systems used in the UK might impact upon the Westminster Parliament. The Scottish and Welsh elections in particular give us an idea of what PR might mean for national elections, but only a partial one, given the importance of the nationalist element. Before Thursday, Scotland's parliament had a significant number of MSP's who were independents or representatives of small parties (for example Tommy sheridan, of the Solidarity Party, formerly a Scottish Socialist). This certainly suggested the ability of even a hybrid system like the Additional Member system to increase the diversity of representation (and note that this is also the case with the European Elections, which return Greens and UKIP members to the European Parliament). On Thursday, however, only 2 Green MSP's and one Independent (Margot MacDonald) were returned, leaving representation predominantly in the hands of the Big Four - SNP, Labour, Conservatives and Lib Dems.

Although they are the fourth party by one seat, the Lib Dems could hold the key to office. The system as it stands makes it difficult for any party to achieve a majority in the parliament - perhaps something that the Westminster planners were keen on, in order to deny the SNP a chance of a majority government. So, having kept the Labour Party in office since devolution's inception, the Lib Dems now face the awkward task of deciding who to deal with now. As intimated in my previous post, they could opt to keep Labour in. After all, they are unionists who oppose the SNP proposals for a referendum on independence, and Campbell and Brown get on well at national level. On the other hand, such a decision will tar them as favouring a government that has been rejected by the electorate, and may make it more difficult to come back from the poor position they attained in these elections. So the SNP is not without hope of gaining Lib Dem support themselves.

It is also worth noting that the 'regional list' aspect of the AM voting system in Wales and Scotland has helped the Tories in particular. In Scotland the Tories won only 4 constituencies outright, but gained 13 members off the list. It was closer in Wales, an admittedly smaller body, where they had 5 constituencies and 7 list members. There is no doubt that if a list system were in use for Westminster, the Tories would be in a much stronger position than they are now.

Wales returned only 1 Independent Assembly Member - Trish Law, widow of Peter Law who won Blaeneau Gwent in 2005 when he stood in protest against the official Labour candidate, who had been selected from an all-woman shortlist.

In England, the Tories are the dominant party, returning to a position tehy haven't enjoyed since 1978, just before Margaret Thatcher's first election victory. In England and Wales together, the Tories hold 44% of the seats, to Labour's 26%. The idea that this could not translate into a Conservative General election victory may seem astonishing (Labour suggested the Tories needed 47% of the vote to be assured of a Commons majority), even if it does reflect the disporportionate inadequacies of our current electoral system. However, on Thursday's vote, the Sunday Times * has predicted that Cameron would have a 54 seat majority, although any projection should be treated with care, as local factors explain some of the results in these, after all local, elections! The Liberal Democrats lost Bournemouth, for example, because they had instituted fortnightly rubbish collections that were universally loathed.

In summary:

- the devolved parliaments show us that a hybrid system including some PR is more likely to produce coalition governments;

- they can produce a greater diversity of representatives, as in Scotland before 2007, but not always, as shown in 2007.

- the Tories would benefit, in Scottish and Welsh seats, from a national AM system.

- the Tories look more like an English party than ever, making the West Lothian Question more urgent, especially in view of the likely arrival of a supporter of Scottish independence in power in Scotland.

- the Liberal Democrats may have performed badly, but can still hold the balance of power and take a role in government (a possibility in both Scotland and Wales). Their natural inlcination is to side with Labour.


* The study was carried out by Rallings and Thrasher of Plymouth University Elections Centre.

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