7 March 2011

How Representative is Parliament?

The whole point of representative democracy is that the MPs we elect to Parliament will represent the will of the people who elected them.

There are lots of ways to test this. One way is to see how many votes are represented by an MP. This is done by adding up all the votes that were cast for the candidates that got elected to Parliament. This can then be compared to the votes that didn't get represented - the sum of the votes that weren't for a candidate that got elected, and also the votes that didn't get used. Together, these make up the members of the public that aren't represented in Parliament.

From this spreadsheet (which only has seats in Britain, so these calculations don't include Northern Ireland), here are the totals for each group from last year's general election:

Represented votes: 13,695,495 (31%)
Unrepresented votes: 15,315,206 (34%)
Didn't vote: 15,435,593 (35%)

From these findings we can state the following:

• Over two-thirds of the public are not represented.
• Only a minority of voters are represented.

This isn't good enough. The decisions taken that affect all of us are being made by people who don't get close to representing the majority of us. There are many possible solutions, but there's one action you can take to improve this: Vote Yes in the AV referendum on May 5th.

How It Will Help

Here's why there are so many unrepresented votes (also called wasted votes) under the old First Past The Post system. These graphics are largely based on this handy Guardian animation.

Even though candidate A got more votes than the other candidates, most of the votes cast go to waste and aren't represented by the winner. This is what happens in two-thirds of constituencies across the country.

Here's how things will change under AV:

With AV, there is less waste, because it is guaranteed the winner will represent the majority of the final vote. That's because even though candidates C, D and E lost, that doesn't mean their voters' voices are silenced. This is why the MPs who win under AV will have to be more representative than under the old system.

Nobody's pretending AV will solve everything. There will still be people who choose not to vote under any system (although when the old system means there's little chance of your vote being represented, you can't blame them for not bothering). But when an opportunity comes to improve the representativeness of Parliament, we've got to take it.


Paul Perrin (@pperrin) said...

Interesting - I did a similar thing a while back for the 2005 general election...

To the nearest .25 million they were as follows:

Electorate - 44,250,000
valid votes cast - 27,250,000
votes for winning candidates - 13,000,000

So only about 60% of the electorate cast valid votes and of those votes cast, about half were for winning candidates and half for losing ones! So in the 2005 parliament MPs represented only around 30% of the electorate...

Matthew said...

I support AV but it's overegging the case to say 2/3rds not represented by MPs under FPTP and then pretend huge amount are under AV. Under FPTP using this definition of 'represented' its not 2/3rds who aren't, but 2/3rds less the % of people who didn't vote for their MP but prefer their MP to the 2nd placed candidate (or perhaps 3rd sometimes)

Dan said...

I always like to see things in a chart, it helps to make a point so much more powerfully than reams of text.

I think this chart shows that there is a real problem with the represetativeness of Parliament.

I personally would count a vote as wasted if it doesn't contribute to the final decision about who is elected i.e. not cast for either the winner or the second place (or in the case of a 3 or 4 way marginal for one of the credible winners.

It's shameful to see the number of people not represented in Parliament because they didn't vote. Shameful for them that they chose not to exercise their right to vote and shameful for all our parties that they are so unappealing and shameful that our system drives so many people to stay at home.

misterned said...

Your graphics are misleading. I am sure that people would not mind if under AV, the candidate with most votes, had their 45% made up to 50%+ with the addition of second and subsequent preferences (as your graphic shows). However it is a much different matter if the third placed candidate, who very few people wanted as a first choice, won.

FPTP is not the best system, but that is no reason to replace it with a system which is even worse!

Vote NO to AV.