Is this the general election result that would usher in electoral reform?

by Stephen Tall on March 27, 2010

So the polls are narrowing, the Tory lead tottering along within the range of 2-7%. As we all know, the Tories need to poll at around 40% to be sure of a working majority, or else they will have to significantly out-perform their national ratings in the key marginal battlegrounds.

And if they don’t succeed? Well, that will clearly be a disaster for David Cameron’s leadership which has been predicated on the fact that he’s the Tories’ talisman. A hung parliament with a minority Labour/Tory government, perhaps with the tacit consent of the Lib Dems, appears at this stage the most likely outcome.

But what will be the effect on public confidence in the electoral system in the event of a general election result like the one illustrated? This image is taken from UK Polling Report Make your own prediction webpage, and shows one of the crazy results which could be thrown up by the UK’s old-fashioned first-past-the-post voting system.

It shows that the Tories could lead Labour by 37%-31%, and yet still end up the second largest party in the House of Commons. In other words, though the Tories under David Cameron could do better in 2010 than Tony Blair managed to do in 2005, Gordon Brown might be able to carry on as Prime Minister.

What would that mean in actual numbers? If turnout were identical to 2005, the Tories would win just over 10 million votes to Labour’s 8.4 million votes – yet under first-past-the-post Labour would have a parliamentary mandate to form the next government.

Perhaps the British public would be quite comfortable with that situation. Perhaps they would not care that the party with 1.6 million fewer votes would be entitled to continue to govern them. Perhaps they would consider it a price well worth paying in return for retaining the UK’s eccentric voting system.

But perhaps not.

PS: Next Left’s Sunder Katwala looks at how the headlines might play out in the event of such a skewed election result.