UK: First-Past-the-Post was the Winner on the Day

By   /   May 9, 2015  /   22 Comments

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Huge brickbats to the polling industry in the UK, and to the media organisations who strip out the nuance and caveats before reporting them. The pre-election polls messed up likewise in 1970 and 1992

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The United Kingdom election result – an apparent outright win to the Tory Conservatives – will be difficult for the left to take; here and in the UK. The most significant point however was that only the Scottish Nationalist Party ran on anti-austerity economic policies. And they did OK! Indeed I think their anti-austerity rhetoric was the main reason that they gained over 50 percent of the Scottish vote.

The UK election result was not at all surprising to me. Essentially last week I wrote:

“In this FPP system the typical result is one party gaining an overall majority of seats while gaining about 37% of the overall national vote. So don’t be surprised if the Tories get returned with an overall majority of MPs this time; they are polling 36%.”

I made essentially the same prediction more than two weeks ago on Scoop on 23 April (United Kingdom General Election on 7 May):

“I think there’s a good chance that the Conservatives will win outright, though with less than 40% of the total vote, and probably with about 25% support of all those entitled to vote.”

What astounds me is the fact that almost everyone in the UK seemed completely surprised by the result. First they were taken aback by the exit polls seemingly giving conflicting information from all the pre-election polls the day before. Second, they – even the experts – just don’t seem to get that a first-past-the-post election with 650 constituencies is in fact 650 separate elections. And, that the winner of many of those elections (at least 30% of them) will be determined not by the winners’ score but by the split of the votes cast for other candidates.

This time it was pretty obvious that the crucial political issue would be how the collapsing Liberal Democrat (Lib-Dems) vote split between Labour and Conservative. And the second issue was who would suffer more from the higher UKIP (akin to New Zealand First) support than in 2010. My sense that the Lib-Dems would shed more votes to Labour, and that Labour would lose more votes than the Tories to UKIP seems to have been born out.

On the question of the Lib-Dem attrition, this would obviously differ in the Lib-Dem-held seats from the seats in which the Lib-Dems came second last time, and from the marginal-ish seats (between Labour and Tory) in which the Lib-Dems scored quite well in 2010.

Ed Balls – the British equivalent of David Parker – lost his Yorkshire seat on account of quite a lot of the Lib-Dem votes switching to the Conservatives, and too many former Labour voters switching to UKIP. His particular election – in Morley and Outwood – is significant; like the SNP vote, as its result can be taken as an anti-austerity vote. (If you look at the Guardian’s live election website, you can see this constituency just south of Leeds; now blue in a sea of red.)

The problem with the pre-election polling was that it was lacking in nuance; it was too nationwide in its approach, did not give enough information about the extent of the still undecided vote, and underpolled those people hard to reach. The exit polls on the other hand captured the local and regional differentiation, and only polled people who had in fact voted.

Looking at the Guardian’s graphic we can see that there were five separate regional elections: Northern Ireland, Scotland, northern England with Wales, London, and southern England. And within those regions the differences were large depending on the rankings of the parties’ candidates in 2010. In any future FPP elections (if the British people will stand for any more!), polling will need to be done on a seat by seat basis, with most resources going into marginal seats and seats with significant third-party support in 2015.

So huge brickbats to the polling industry in the UK, and to the media organisations who strip out the nuance and caveats before reporting them. The pre-election polls messed up likewise in 1970 and 1992. So brickbats too to the media who resolutely refused to look under the surface at these individual regional (Scotland excepted) and constituency dynamics.

On this regional theme, I was also astounded by the lack of pre-election coverage of what a Conservative-DUP governing arrangement would look like, given that the likelihood of the Lib-Dems coalescing again with the Conservatives seemed quite remote. Belfast may be far from London, but its votes count just as much as those of English cities. While it looks like the Tories will not need DUP (Democratic Unionist Party) votes for confidence and supply, it was a near-run thing. And the DUP nevertheless will have some leverage, much as the Maori Party has here in New Zealand.

In 2020, I’m guessing that the Conservatives will be dumped on account of the economic crisis that will likely have been unfolding in 2018 and 2019. But people will want a Labour Party that’s offering something that really is better. Further we should note that the constituencies are polarising. There seem to be many huge Tory winning margins, and many huge Labour margins, this time. The winner in 2020 will be the party that gives UKIP voters some reasons to switch back to a mainstream party; this will be more important that the direct Labour-Tory swing in the relatively small number of close marginal seats.

The SNP certainly offered policies, north of the border, which did not give UKIP much of a look in. Next election, Labour should run on a similar platform to SNP. And they should endorse SNP candidates rather than trying to defeat the SNP.

In 2015 the Conservatives have won with less than 37 percent of the vote. Adding in Northern Irish conservatives gives 38 percent to the ‘reputable’ right (contrast with the populist UKIP right). Yet the left (including the Lib-Dems) has only 49 percent; not enough to claim it was robbed. Nevertheless, we would be looking at a quite different result (with a huge SNP overhang) if these were party votes in an MMP election. First-past-the-post was the winner on the day.

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22 Comments

  1. CLEANGREEN says:

    “What astounds me is the fact that almost everyone in the UK seemed completely surprised by the result. First they were taken aback by the exit polls seemingly giving conflicting information from all the pre-election polls the day before. Second, they – even the experts – just don’t seem to get that a first-past-the-post election with 650 constituencies is in fact 650 separate elections. And, that the winner of many of those elections (at least 30% of them) will be determined not by the winners’ score but by the split of the votes cast for other candidates.”

    All these differentials are plausible and believable if it wasn’t for the fact that this election as NZ,US & Australian elections all had one ting in common – They all use “electronic tabulation” “source code” counting process following simple manual exit polls before the & final voting counting process.

    These can all become manipulated by electronic programs they need to use for quick electronic final counting so they don’t need to wait four or more days for the outcome of the election.

    This video confirms the ease of which results can be manipulated and suggests that any marked discrepancies from pre election polls will signal some manipulation of the election counting has occurred.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JEzY2tnwExs

    I am astonished as to why no-one has already suggested that a manipulation of the election by electronic source code may have been conducted in the UK election.

    Just look up “source code” on the web and catch the historical rigged voting occurring already.

    The source code is often transformed by a compiler program into low-level machine code understood by the computer. The machine code might then be stored for execution at a later time.

    All voting systems face threats of some form of electoral fraud. The types of threats that affect voting machines can vary from other forms of voting systems, some threats may be prevented and others introduced. “Threat Analyses & Papers”. National Institute of Standards and Technology. October 7, 2005. Retrieved 5 March 2011.

    Some forms of electoral fraud specific to electronic voting machines are listed below. Recent research at Argonne National Laboratories demonstrates that if a malicious actor is able to gain physical access to a voting machine, it can be a simple process to manipulate certain electronic voting machines, such as the Diebold Accuvote TS, by inserting inexpensive, readily available electronic components inside the machine.[28][29]
    Tampering with the software of a voting machine to add malicious code altering vote totals or favour any candidate. Multiple groups have demonstrated this possibility.

    Private companies manufacture these machines. Many companies will not allow public access or review of the machines source code, claiming fear of exposing trade secrets.

    Tampering with the hardware of the voting machine to alter vote totals or favour any candidate.

    Some of these machines require a smartcard to activate the machine and vote. However, a fraudulent smart card could attempt to gain access to vote multiple times.

    Abusing the administrative access to the machine by election officials might also allow individuals to vote multiple times.

    Election results that are sent directly over the internet from a county count centre to the state count centre can be vulnerable to a man-in-the-middle attack, where they are diverted to an intermediate web site where the man in the middle flips the votes in favour of a certain candidate and then immediately forwards them on to the state count centre.

    All votes sent over the internet violate chain of custody and hence should be avoided by driving or flying memory cards in locked metal containers from county count centres to the state count centre. For purposes of getting quick preliminary state wide results on election night, encrypted votes can be sent over the internet, but final official results should be tabulated the next day only after the actual memory cards arrive in secure metal containers and are counted.

    In US this happened.

    Last election, 11 states were found to have voting machines that recorded votes for Republicans when the voter pushed the button for a Democrat.

    This year, it is starting again, but Obama, thank God, has a goodly number of people at the polls to check on such cheating as well as some excellent lawyers to prosecute the guilty Republicans.

    VOTING IRREGULARITIES HAPPENING ALREADY – WV Voting Machines Switch Votes from Obama to McCain – Debate Both Sides

    (http://debatebothsides.com/showthread.php?p=1009015 – broken link)

    Read more:

    http://www.city-data.com/forum/elections/470889-voting-machines-rigged-mccain-voters-democrat.html#ixzz3Za5vLjse

  2. Andrewo says:

    The problem with the polling: The luvvies in the media being out of touch with the reality of the mainstream?

    It is now clear that there is a global problem for Labour: Was it the party of the 20th century? Like the Liberals were the party of some previous century (18th?).

    We’ve got a 40hr week, 4 weeks paid leave, healthcare, the dole, votes for women, marriage for gays, industrial health & safety so exactly what is the Left fighting for now? Or is it just fighting for the sake of it? Has it just become the Angry Loser Party (ALP…)

    I suggest that if the Labour wishes to progress it has to dump its union ties and begin to understand what a modern, non-unionised, technically skilled workforce wants.

  3. Och Aye the Noo says:

    Meh I think rather than the SNPs anti-austerity message was the fact they has Scottish in their name and that the Scottish nationalist vote combined with historic SNP voters combined for a “haggis’ wash of the glens.

  4. Anonymous Coward says:

    Don’t forget the influence of Jockophobia. The English press have been pushing scare stories of increased SNP involvement in Westminster for months. With Labour being the only party capable of forming a governing alliance with the SNP much of England will have voted Tory simply to prevent that happening. In their eyes it was likely ‘vote least worst’, but you do have to wonder where the fear of Scotland is going to go now that the SNP have a monopoly. Better Together indeed…

  5. J S Bark J S Bark says:

    I agree with you Keith and a nicely observed blog it is too.
    I’m an ex-Pom (by about 40 years) and for the life of me I could never work out why the Brits stayed with FPP when all over Europe (and even down here in the far off Pacific) other more representative systems were increasingly introduced.
    I write it off as that strange blockheaded unchanging nature the English exhibit. It worked great in 1939-1945 but since then has proved more of a benecked albatross. To quote their own former leader “We shall never surrender…” The answer is in their own hands of course but there are always more important things to do: the football pools, the warm-beer pub and holidays in Mallorca…
    They should look on us and despair…

  6. You nailed it. This (and the Conservatives)was the real winner, more than anything else.

    Now, how long will F.P.P last in the wake of this result?

    • Mike in Auckland says:

      If Labour here, same as there, had any smart ideas, they would simply learn from Crosby Textor and reshape the approach to suit their own purposes, with THEIR own messages and policies.

      It sadly seems to be the case, that the largely politically illiterate and ignorant public are easily swayed, or moved, by smart, well prepared and coherently executed messages that are addressed to them.

      This is not really politics how I like it, but if the right can do this and “succeed” like they did again in the UK, then the left must surely be capable of doing the same, with appealing and convincing messages with a social contents.

      But apart from Crosby Textor the right also have the MSM on their side, most of them at least, dancing to the tunes, as they request, which is not hard, given the “market focused” approach that has been adopted by the mostly privately owned, and run media.

      And as the advertisers and commercial interests dominate the whole medias landscape, the left will simply never get there, unless we change the rules, like no polls and election advertising for two weeks or even four weeks before any election.

  7. Mike in Auckland says:

    Yes, perhaps those New Zelanders that so often like to lament our present election system, should give all this election result in the UK some serious consideration. It shows how good we have it in comparison, that is in regards to how we can cast our vote and are represented according to our votes.

    The BBC have a website page with interesting figures, graphs and analysis, and it is clear that the Conservatives only got 0.8 percent more votes than last election. Labour actually made tiny gains! Yet the Conservatives got rewarded with a substantial gain in seats, while Labour got hammered and lose a fair few.

    Of course Labour lost Scotland, and if the seats now to be taken by the Scottish Nationalist Party would be counted alongside Labour’s seats, and the few seats by Greens and others in opposition added also, then it shows, that overall not much has changed in regards to the governing and opposition shares in Parliament.

    BBC result and analysis page:
    http://www.bbc.com/news/election-2015-32624405

    The winners are the Scottish Nationalists, actually more “left” leaning than traditional nationalist parties, and the big losers are the Liberal Democrats, who got punished for supporting the Conservatives in the last government.

    Also are UKIP big losers, gaining about 12 percent of total votes, but only getting 1 seat.

    See the results in percentages and seats here:
    http://www.bbc.com/news/election/2015/results

    It appears that the result is a split opposition, same as we have it here in NZ now, which weakens any opposition, and which causes the difficulty to convince voters to consider an alternative to the government, as most voters like STABILITY based on sufficient UNITY.

    Labour in the UK would be well advised now, to start a massive public campaign for a reform of their election system, that is once the dust has settled. They surely will have many other parties support them, as most smaller parties have got shafted again and again by the “first past the post” system.

    As for Cameron and his Conservatives, they better not boast too much over coming years, as in reality they only got nearly 37 percent of all votes, in an election where only 67 percent of eligible voters bothered to vote (almost the same as last election).

    That is not a convincing majority in my view.

  8. Ben says:

    Had the election been fought using MMP the Conservatives and UKIP could have formed a government. I wonder if those on the left who are such staunch advocates of democracy would have still been so enthusiastic.

    • I can’t speak for others on the Left, Ben, but my short answer to your question is: yes.

    • Mike in Auckland says:

      If the Cons had gone into coalition with UKIP, then you can rest assured that after 5 years, UKIP would be there where the LibDems are now. So perhaps that would not have been all that bad, should an MMP election have been held and should that have been the outcome.

      One may also think, that some voters may have cast their vote a bit differently, if they were to vote under MMP, like more carefully, perhaps strategically. First past the post is an election system where candidates have to focus on getting themselves across the line, nothing more or less, and potential political alliances are given little consideration.

      MMP would possibly have brought about quite a different result altogether.

  9. Dennis Dorney says:

    This was a really well researched article, Keith. Congratulations.

  10. Keith Rankin says:

    Under our MMP rules, the SNP overhang could have got a left government through.

    Looking more broadly, UKIP sits in the middle like NZ First here. Labour has to find a policy programme that will draw UKIP voters. This is not impossible, but requires a shift in mindset. Politics is, more than anything, a numbers game. And, as well as votes and seats, those numbers include personal pounds or dollars, not the government Budget surplus.

    Japan, where they see government debt as a solution – a natural complement to private savings – rather than a problem, has got half the recipe. The other half of the recipe involves reframing the ‘redistributive welfare state’ into a distributive welfare society. It may only require comprehensive public accounting reform to achieve this second half of the recipe. Such reform opens the door to possibilities that most of us cannot see; we cannot see these possibilities because the door to them is closed.

    Much of the problem is that public accounting reform involves intellectual numeracy, and most people who identify with the left are number phobic. The challenge for the left is to make public accounting concepts sexy.

  11. Grant says:

    The Conservatives were always going to win. Anyone with half a brain relates “labour” with the Great Depression. Unfortunately for the Labour Party the world has moved on and apart from some exceptions the young people of today do not identify with a party which by it’s very name identifies with labouring work look at the North and South of England and find the labouring work the party was founded on, supported by the the strength of the unions. Since the days of Arthur Scargell and similar Union people the UK has gone backwards.

    Without the financial sector – not a labour strongpoint – the UK would be in real trouble.

    • Mike in Auckland says:

      You are to some degree right with your last sentence, but I disagree with your other comments. Yes, many “young” may not identify with Labour, and the traditions of the party, but that may be, because former workers and their off-spring have thanks to past Labour policies managed to move into the “middle class”. They have simply forgotten where they came from!

      And much of what is now the labour and “service” types of work that keeps society going, that is now done by young and not so young migrants, many of them being the new underclass, so to say. Then we have had many forced into “contract” work, being “self employed” small operators, who compete with their fellow citizens to survive and manage.

      The fabric of society has been destroyed.

      Yes, Labour in the UK made many mistakes, and after the Global Finacial Crisis they had the opportunity to steer decisively into a new direction, away from being a “more moderate” neoliberal force that they became under Tony Blair.

      Now they are desperately seeking a new orientation, and it may now be up to progressives in other countries to show Labour in the UK how this can perhaps be done.

      There would be an opportunity for Labour in NZ, that is, if they would actually realise it, and dare to move into a new direction.

      Listening to Grant Robertson on Q+A today, I fear that the present bunch are not up to it. His eyes lit up in the beginning of the interview, when it was about the power he could wield if Labour would get back in government, being in charge of Finance and Ecomonics.

      The man is more interested in his own political career and getting his hands onto power and influence, than delivering anything real progressive, that may be better than what was discussed and offered before.

      • Grant says:

        I have just watched a replay of this morning’s Q&A. My namesake (Grant R) set out in clear detail where the money will be spent – although they are still discussing where this money will come from. This man is not capable of financial management.

    • swordfish says:

      ” Unfortunately for the Labour Party…..the young people of today do not identify with a party which by its very name identifies with labouring work….”

      Yeah, but that’s bollocks, isn’t it.

      As in New Zealand, the Under-40s in the UK are far more Left/Labour-leaning (according to Poll breakdowns) than middle-aged and older voters. UK Labour were WELL ahead of the Tories among younger Brits according to the final polls.

      (Trouble is: as in Nouveau Zealande, the young end up staying at home on The Big Day)

  12. Nitrium Nitrium says:

    In a nutshell, they got the same shitty “conservative majority” outcome under the FPP system that we also got under our supposedly superior MMP system. Is there really any more to say about the result than that? Also I, for one, fully expect a Republican president in the US 2016 election.