First past the post is warping our politics, says the ERS

By agency reporter
July 31, 2019

Campaigners have warned of a ‘crisis of legitimacy’ for local elections in England, with the most detailed analysis of 2019 elections yet revealing widespread disproportionality and ‘wrong winner’ results. 

In analysis published to mark 15 years since the introduction of proportional representation for Scottish local elections, the Electoral Reform Society (ERS) has revealed a stark gap between the fairness of representation in Scotland and England.

In 115 English councils this May, a single party won over half the council seats up for election, despite getting fewer than half the votes in the area. This represents nearly half of all councils (46 per cent) where local elections took place in England this year. In the most extreme case the Conservative Party took all of the seats up for election on Havant Council with just 43.9 per cent of the vote.

In the Scottish local elections in 2017 using the Single Transferable Vote no council saw a party get more than half the seats with less than half the first preference votes.

In addition, in 17 English councils this May, the party with the largest number of votes did not secure the most seats creating ‘wrong winner’ results – a ‘damning indictment of England’s woefully out-dated voting system’, according to the ERS.

In 115 of the 248 councils holding elections in May 2019, a party won more than 50 per cent of the seats with less than 50 per cent of the vote. In 17 of the 248 councils holding elections in May 2019, the party with the most votes did not win the most seats.

In addition, there were 150 uncontested seats – won without an election taking place. Those seats were not included in the analysis.

Jess Garland, Director of Policy and Research at the Electoral Reform Society, said: “This research shows how our broken electoral system is distorting local election results. First Past the Post is delivering skewed results in over a hundred councils across the country meaning many voters’ voices are unheard.

“England continues to rely on this disproportionate system for local elections, where only the votes for the top candidate to ‘get over the line’ secure representation – all others are ignored. Spread out over thousands of contests, this can lead to some parties being drastically over- or under-represented.

“In comparison, Scotland legislated to use the more proportional Single Transferable Vote. Since 2004, voters rank candidates by preference and ‘surplus’ votes are redistributed according to voters’ choices. Most advanced democracies use proportional systems where seats more closely reflect parties’ share of the vote.

“It’s time we ended the broken first-past-the-post system in England – a system that continues to warp our politics. A more proportional system would help open local democracy and make sure all voters’ voices are heard.”

The full report, The English Local Elections Audit 2019 will be published in August.

* The Electoral Reform Society https://www.electoral-reform.org.uk/

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