Having just done the roundup of the most popular posts for the last three months, it occurs to me that many of you reading this are election junkies just like me and are no doubt getting pretty jittery awaiting your next fix.

Well, in the spirit of helping someone avoid going full cold election turkey, allow me to point you several thousand miles west, where Canada will be holding a general election in October which is currently promising to be a classic for fans of close polling performance turning into bizarre electoral results thanks to the electoral system.

Like the UK, Canada still uses first past the post for election. Also like Britain, Canada has a multi-party system with strong regional variations and parties. Unlike Britain, Canadian polling is showing that the three main parties – the currently governing Conservatives, the opposition New Democrats and the formerly dominant Liberals – are effectively tied in the polls:
Projection Front
The NDP have currently moved into the lead after their surprising win in the Alberta provincial election in May, but the other two parties have also had leads in the polls recently, and the official election campaign hasn’t started yet.

What makes Canada even more interesting is that its politics have a level of fluidity and volatility that most other countries fail to come even close to. It’s not uncommon to see parties almost completely wiped out in elections – the most famous being the Progressive Conservatives going from governing to winning just two seats in 1993 – and other parties making massive surges that surprise even them. The NDP, which barely had a foothold in Quebec and didn’t compete in provincial elections, won almost every seat there in 2011. The NDP’s win in Alberta this year saw it go from having 4 seats to 54 in an 87-member Parliament it had never previously held more than 16 seats in.

Even outside of elections, part boundaries are much more fluid from a British perspective with elected members frequently crossing the floor or resigning to stand in other elections and a seemingly constant stream of by-elections taking place – just look at the sheer amount of switching and stepping down going on here. However, my favourite recent example is again in Alberta where, a few months before this year’s provincial election, nine members (including the leader) of the relatively new right-wing Wildrose Party announced that they were joining the Progressive Conservatives, leaving Wildrose with just five members in the provincial Parliament. You’d expect that to be the end of the party, but this is Canada, so naturally they managed to increase their number of members from the last election and are now Alberta’s official opposition, while the Progressive Conservatives dropped to third place.

Indeed, looking at Canadian election results I do have a suspicion that the primary motivation of the electorate at all levels is to give political scientists something that will confound every model of party systems and electoral behaviour they can come up with. It should keep you interested through till October, and will be much more interesting than watching the America’s Craziest Man competition that appears to have replaced the Republican contest to be the next US President.

Yesterday saw an expected yet still disappointing response from the Government to the various post-election electoral reform petitions. Expected, because we all know that there’s no way this Government is going to concede electoral reform, yet disappointing because it reveals that the minister for constitutional reform may have absolutely no idea what he’s talking about.

In response to petitions demanding a properly proportional electoral system, his response was that ‘we had a referendum on it in 2011′. The 2011 referendum was lost, and lost badly, but it was definitely not a referendum on adopting a proportional system. The question was, if you forget:

At present, the UK uses the “first past the post” system to elect MPs to the House of Commons. Should the “alternative vote” system be used instead?

You’ll notice, of course, that there’s no mention there of any proportional electoral system, merely a question about whether one majoritarian system should be used in place of another. Also note that it doesn’t ask for any affirmation of the current system above all others: the question was not ‘do you agree that “first past the post” is great and should never ever be changed?’

There were other referendums during the last Parliament, of course, with several cities being told that they had to have votes on whether they wanted an elected Mayor to run their Council. Bristol and Salford voted yes but a whole host of England’s largest cities – Birmingham, Manchester, Leeds, Sheffield, Newcastle and others – voted No.

Despite this, the Government is pushing forward with plans to give these cities – and ‘city regions’ – their own mayors whether they want them or not. Manchester’s ‘interim Mayor’ has already been agreed and selected by ten people without any consultation with the electorate, and other areas are going to find that George Osborne will be imposing one upon them if they want to have any new powers, with ‘devolution’ being used as an excuse for even more centralisation. In this case, despite the people voting against it more recently than 2011, the Government’s going to go ahead and do what it wants.

‘But Nick!’ you cry, desperate to defend George Osborne. ‘These are different to the Mayors they rejected. These are Metro Mayors and regional Mayors, covering wider areas than those that voted in the referendums, so it’s a completely different thing!’ And you may well be right, but if you’re going to make that argument, you can’t also claim that any electoral reform is off the agenda because of the AV referendum as that was merely vote on a tweak to the current majoritarian system, not a change to a proportional one. I’m happy to concede that the referendum rejected AV, but had nothing to say about other electoral systems and if a future Parliament chooses to change the system it can do so – as long as it’s not to AV.

Unfortunately, we have a government where the minister for constitutional reform doesn’t seem to understand even the basics of what’s happened before, so we can expect lots more confusion over the Parliament. If that wasn’t a five year period in which some important constitutional questions are going to be discussed heavily, it’d almost be funny.

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I’ve spent most of today gathering together some data about Liberal Democrat Parliamentary seats for my dissertation, and figured that some of you might find it interesting.

The data set is Liberal Democrat seats won at a general election or by-election since 1992, so it excludes pre-1992 seats won at by-elections (which in practice means no Ribble Valley) and seats held by defectors, unless they were won at a subsequent election. I’ve tried to keep some continuity between seats when the geography remains roughly similar – I’ve treated the various Inverness and Nairn seats as one, for instance – but in some cases that’s not been possible.

There are 81 seats that have been won by the party since 1992. 60 of them were originally won from Conservatives (including 6 at by-elections and one defection), 20 from Labour (including 5 at by-elections and one via defection from Labour to the SDP) and one from Plaid Cymru.

There are currently eight held seats: the longest continually-held seat is Orkney and Shetland (since 1950), the others have all been won since 1997. Carshalton and Wallington, Sheffield Hallam and Southport were all won then, North Norfolk in 2001, and Ceredigion, Leeds North West and Westmorland & Lonsdale in 2005. Ceredigion is a bit of a special case as it was previously held by Liberals from 1979 to 1992 and for most of the period up until 1966.

Of the other 73 seats: as of 2015, 41 are now held by the Conservatives with Liberal Democrats in second place in 35 of those seats, third in 2, fourth in 3 and fifth in the Isle of Wight. Labour hold 16 with Liberal Democrats second in 9, third in 2, fourth in 4 and fifth in Leicester South. The SNP hold 11 with Liberal Democrats in second place in 8 seats, third place in 2 seats and fourth place in Dunfermline and West Fife.

The other five seats have been split up too much to have a single recognisable successor seat: Liverpool Mossley Hill (now all in Labour-held constituencies), Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale (now in SNP or Conservative constituencies), Truro, Teignbridge, and Falmouth & Camborne (the latter three now all in Conservative constituencies)

I’m not drawing too many conclusions from this yet – part of the reason for doing this is just to have the information I need in one place so I can use it more easily – but there are some interesting patterns in the data. Seats gained from Conservatives tend to follow the pattern of the party having been in 2nd place for a long period – in all the gains from Conservatives since 1997, the party was in 2nd place at the 1992 election. Gains from Labour are much more complex – in 1992, Liberal Democrats were second in four seats that were subsequent gains from Labour, but only one of those (Chesterfield) was won by Labour at that election. Liberal Democrats were second to the Conservatives in three (Bristol West, Leeds North West, and Falmouth & Camborne) that Labour would win in 1997, but the Liberal Democrats would go on to win in 2005. In all four of the 2010 gains from Labour (Bradford East, Burnley, Norwich South, and Redcar), Liberal Democrats were third in 1992, 1997 and 2001, before moving up to second in 2005.

It’s all interesting grist for my theoretic mill about the effects of the structure of competition within the party system, but hopefully some of you will find the information of use for its own sake.

Officials count ballot papers in WitneyHaving a small masochistic streak in me, I watched some of Andrew Marr’s show this morning, so got to see Yvette Cooper saying that maybe adopting the Tory manifesto for their next set of policies wasn’t the best approach for the Labour Party. It’s the sort of thing that should be obvious, but in the rather bizarre world of the mainstream political commentariat it’s almost heresy. After all, Labour was comprehensively defeated in the election while the Tories stormed to a resounding victory, which proves that the country has swung decisively to the right in its attitudes and everyone should just agree with them.

It’s an interesting argument, except for the fact that it rests on a foundation of utter bollocks. Labour’s share of the vote went up by more than the Tories did, David Cameron got fewer votes than Neil Kinnock did in 1992 and all the evidence suggests that the public mood is actually moving leftwards and will continue to do so during the Parliament. Five years ago, Labour let the consensus mediamacro opinion that they were somehow solely responsible for the global financial crisis form while they were busy with their leadership contest, but this time they actually appear to be using their contest to support the formation of a new consensus that the 2015 election was some epochal rejection of the Labour Party, not just a defeat.

As Andrew Rawnsley points out in the Observer today, the only reason we have this narrative is because of our thoroughly broken electoral system that allows a party with 37% of the vote to pretend it has a huge mandate, while one with 31% has been thumpingly rejected. Instead of talking about how one party is mildly more popular than the other, we instead have to act out a bizarre farce where the ‘winners’ of the election are treated as though they have the majority of the population enthusiastically backing them, not just the largest plurality.

The problem for Labour is that their commitment to the current electoral system – in the hope that it will deliver them a similar majority from a plurality if the pendulum swings back to them – means they have to act like the Tories are an actual majority, not just the representatives of 37% of the voters. That’s why they end up pushed into a narrative of having to show their agreement with the Tory manifesto because it’s assumed that they have to take votes from them to win next time, ignoring the large chunk of voters that didn’t vote for either of them, and the even larger chunk of the electorate that didn’t vote at all. Cooper’s right to point out that the way forward for Labour isn’t swallowing the Tory manifesto, but to make that argument stick she’ll have to point out that one big reason the Tories are in a majority is because of the effect of the electoral system. While she’s stuck in pretending that a Parliamentary majority means something more than just a quirk of electoral mathematics, she can’t respond by pointing out that there are other paths Labour can take.

(Incidentally, it’s why I think Mark Thompson’s belief that Liz Kendall could call for electoral reform is wrong. Her pitch for the leadership is bound up tightly in pretending that the Tories are a real majority, so Labour must be more like them, and the arguments she’d need to make for electoral reform would severely weaken her pitch.)

Labour has been in this position before, and there were tentative moves towards adopting electoral reform before 1997, that ended up being quietly shelved once they realised that they could get the electoral system to make them look absurdly dominant. However, now they face a situation where the electoral system is looking very skewed against them, and they’ve got an uphill battle to get a plurality of Commons seats, let alone a majority. By admitting the reality of the electoral situation, Labour can give themselves a strong argument to both challenge the Tories and build co-operation between the opposition parties, all of whom except Labour are committed to some version of electoral reform. Sure, it won’t be popular with every part of the Labour Party, but I’m not detecting a huge wave of enthusiasm within the party for becoming the Tory Reserves either. If any of the leadership candidates want to push Labour away from capitulation to the Tory agenda, they have to challenge the narrative that’s presenting them as hegemonic, and challenging the electoral system is an important part of that. Do any of their candidates have the desire to make that challenge, or will they just be crossing their fingers and hoping for the best in 2020?

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I’m sure we’re all aware that the older you are, the more likely you are to vote, with the effect that politicians often ignore the needs of the young in favour of the old. After all, you’re always going to be more interested in the views of the people who can put you in power rather than the ones who won’t.

This gives us an odd situation where not only are one group’s views and interests favoured over others, that group is the one who’ll experience the least of any consequences from the decisions made by government. Your average first time voter will be around for 50 to 60 years after they’ve voted, living with the consequences of what’s been decided, while an older voter is only going to be around for a fraction of that time. Partly because of their own decision not to vote, those who’ll be affected the most by the decision in an election are likely to have the least influence on it.

What this also means is that governments and voters end up giving much more consideration to the short-term than the long term. Voters who are still going to be around in 30 or 40 years time and dealing with the long-term consequences of decisions made today count just the same as those who won’t be, and the different participation rates effectively make their views worth less in the process than older voters. There are potentially huge social, economic and especially environmental changes happening in that period, but they don’t feature in election campaigns. How many times did politicians talk about things after 2020 in the recent campaign, let alone the 2040s and beyond?

So here’s a thought experiment to try out – what if younger people’s votes counted for more in elections? Not just in terms of getting them to participate at the same rate or higher than older voters, but actually giving them more votes, with your number of votes tapering off as you get older? Everyone would still get a vote, but the power of it would drop as you get older and your stake in the future that’s being decided gets less. Say 18-25 year olds get five votes, 26-40 year olds get four, 40-50 year olds get three, from 50 to 65 you have two votes and finally just one vote if you’re over 65.

How would that effect elections and the way government worked? Would the prospect of a greater say mean the younger you were, the more likely you were to turn out? Would governments have to look more to the long term to get those votes, or would it just reverse the direction of short term pandering with the young getting a lot of freebies in the expectation that those too young to vote (or not even born) would foot the bill?

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I’ve been looking through the election numbers (and thanks to Stanno on Twitter for a spreadsheet packed full of election data) and here’s a few things I’ve noticed.

The Liberal Democrats lost votes everywhere. There aren’t any chinks of light in seats where we managed to gain votes. The smallest fall was Dunbartonshire East, where Jo Swinson went down just 2.4%, and the biggest was Brent Central with the total 35.8% down on 2010. All four of the smallest falls were in Scotland (aside from Dunbarton East, they were 2.8% in Edinburgh West, 3.3% in Gordon, and 3.7% in Argyll & Bute) which suggests both hard campaigning in those seats and that anti-SNP tactical voting was a factor. Outside of Scotland, the least worst falls were David Ward in Bradford East (down 4.2%) and Julian Huppert in Cambridge (4.3%).

Labour’s share of the vote went up, and by more than the Tories. It was a terrible night for Labour, voters deserted Ed Miliband etc is the narrative, which ignores that their share of the vote went up by 1.5%, while the Tory share was up just 0.7%. In conventional terms, there was actually a swing from Tory to Labour, but this time the Tories were able to deploy their vote much more efficiently. On a crude measure, the Tories had only two constituencies (Hampshire North and Maidenhead) where they got over 65% of the vote – Labour had 17. There’s a possibility that without Scotland, the bias in the electoral system has now switched, and it’s Labour piling up votes in safe seats, while the Tories gain more seats with a similar share of the vote.

Where have all the voters gone?. 11,560,484 voters. That’s a huge number of people and more than anyone’s got an election since Tony Blair in 1997. Unfortunately, it’s also the number Neil Kinnock’s Labour Party got in 1992. David Cameron only got 11,300,303 voters on Thursday but national turnout was still only 66.1% despite the boost it got from the massive turnout in Scotland. The SNP have shown that it’s possible to engage non-voters, get them voting and change the rules of the game, but how does that happen in the rest of the country?

Turnout matters. It’s a theory I’ve been thinking about for a while, but I still think we make a mistake by treating all voters at all elections as a homogeneous group. I think we there are two distinct groups – those that generally turn out at all elections (with a possible subset of those who vote in local by-elections and PCC elections) and those that only vote at general elections – with different behaviour. For instance, UKIP got 4.3m votes at the European elections last year and 3.9m on Thursday. Once you take out a chunk to represent Tory protest voters who were never going to vote Farage at a General Election, it seems UKIP are very good at motivating voters to turn out for them at all elections, but not too good at persuading those who only vote at general elections to vote for them. Mark Reckless got almost exactly the same number of votes in Rochester and Strood that he got in the by-election, but lost his seat because Kelly Tolhurst (his Tory opponent both times) found 10,000 more voters for the general election.

I suspect a similar factor helped persuade Lib Dems that things wouldn’t be so bad: ‘Look at the local elections! Our vote’s holding up there!’ was the regular cry, but when that group who didn’t vote in local elections were added to the electorate, things went very bad. Differential turnout is a phenomenon that’s not been studied too much, and the corresponding phenomenon of differential enthusiasm amongst supporters of different parties is something I’ve seen put forward as a plausible suggested explanation for the polling errors.

That’s the main things I’ve spotted for now, but I do want to feed these numbers into SPSS sometime in the next few weeks, just to see what interesting figures I can draw out of them – I suspect there are a lot more stories to be told.

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As I get people coming here looking for them, I’ll post them as I get them so the post will be updated as the evening goes on. Click here for the General Election result.

Berechurch: Labour (Dave Harris) 1,958, Conservative 858, UKIP 521, LD 406, Green 152
Birch and Winstree: Conservative (Andrew Ellis) 1,913, UKIP 569, LD 291, Lab 287, Green 145
Castle: Conservative (Darius Laws) 1667, LD 1172, Green 982, Labour 821
Christ Church: Conservative (Annesley Hardy) 964, LD 670, Labour 433, Green 319, UKIP 148
Copford and West Stanway: Conservative (Jackie Maclean) 673, UKIP 177, LD 115, Lab 155, Green 46
Fordham and Stour: Conservative (Nigel Chapman) 2,023, labour 396, Green 336, LD 327
Great Tey: Conservative (Peter Chillingworth) 979, LD 257, Labour 170, UKIP 162, Green 104
Highwoods: Independent (Philip Oxford) 1,592, Conservative 1,192, Labour 479, LD 466, UKIP 395, Green 187
Mile End: Conservative (Ben Locker) 2,101, LD 1,769, Labour 707, UKIP 533, Green 368
New Town: LD (Annie Feltham) 1,289, Conservative 832, Labour 772, Green 631, UKIP 493
Prettygate: Conservative (Will Quince) 2,269, LD 967, Labour 522, UKIP 489, Green 196
Shrub End: Conservative (Pauline Hazell) 1,571, LD 1157, UKIP 757, Labour 736
St Andrew’s: Labour (Tim Young) 1,462, Conservative 715, LD 447, Green 317
St Anne’s: LD (Barrie Cook) 1173, Conservative 976, UKIP 770, Labour 600, Green 241
Stanway: Conservative (Fiona Maclean) 1861, LD 1611, Labour 616, Green 261
Tiptree: Conservative (Margaret Crowe) 1,873, UKIP 1,313, Labour 535, LD 194, Green 129
West Bergholt and Eight Ash Green: Conservative (Marcus Harrington) 1,578, UKIP 370, Labour 306, LD 265, Green 204, Independent 151, Patriotic Socialist 12
West Mersea: Conservative (Patricia Moore) 2,154, UKIP 988, labour 402, Green 330, LD 278
Wivenhoe Cross: Lib Dem (Mark Cory) 668, Labour 328, Green 130, Conservative 271, UKIP 90
Wivenhoe Quay: Labour (Rosaling Scott) 1295, Conservative 1251, Green 325, LD 295

Official details are on the Borough council website here.

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