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General Election – What would it be under PR?

With the UK 2010 General Election now finished (with 649 of the 650 seats declared – “Thirsk and Malton” is delayed until the 27th of May due to a candidate’s death), we official have a “Hung Parliament” which means no single party has an overall majority (326 is the number needed). The two major parties, Conservatives (306 MPs) who are trying to take Government control from Labour (258 MPs), are now “courting” the Liberal Democrats (57 MPs) to try and form a coalition so jointly they can make a majority government. However, one of the key policies/principles for the Liberal Democrat party is that of Electoral Reform – more specifically changing the UK’s voting system from “First Past The Post” to “Proportional Representation”. This means, in a very simplified manner, than instead of each constituency “returning” an MP who has managed to get the largest number of votes in that area, the votes are then pooled on a regional/country basis and then split proportionally – i.e. if 50% of the votes were for party X, then party X would get 50% of the MPs. At the moment, it’s possible (as indeed happened), for a party to get 23% of the vote but only 8.78% of the seats.

So, what would the General Election look like under PR? Would we still have a Hung Parliament? Well, I’ve taken the data from the BBC’s General Election website and calculated how many seats each party would get under a very very simplified Proportional Representation system. It’s very simplified as I’ve just pooled the votes nationwide and then worked out the percentage: under “real world” situations each constituency would join others to make a large one and then pool on that level.

Well, the table is in the “Read More” section of the post – but what conclusions can I draw?

  • We would still have a Hung Parliament
  • The Conservatives would actually lose 71 MPs compared to now (from 306 to 235), and Labour would lose 69 (257 to 189)
  • The Liberal Democrats would actually gain 93 seats to go from 57 to 150 (so it’s understandable why they like PR)
  • The Green party would increase their single seat to 6 seats (a gain of 5)
  • Unfortunately, “right wing” parties such as the BNP would go from no seats to 12 and the UK Independence Party would also go from no seats to 20
  • The Conservatives could only form a majority government with the help from the Liberal Democrats with 150 MPs: all the remaining parties only have 76 seats spare – Conservatives would need 91 seats
  • Labour could only form a majority government with the help from the Liberal Democrats with 150 MPs: Labour need 137 seats to go over the 326 majority threshold

So, in realistic terms, not much would be different to the current situation – EXCEPT (and this is the most important part in my eyes), the mixture of MPs will more accurately represent the voting intentions (and wishes) of the electorate. I might not agree with them, but if that’s what 5% of the voting public want then perhaps we should have some.

Proportional representation may actually lead to more coalition governments in the future – after all Germany “the powerhouse of Europe” has a coalition government, but Greece and Iceland (both who have had major major financial difficulties recently) have majority governments…

Anyway, here’s the data:

Party Seats under FPP % Votes % Seats under PR Change
Conservative 306 47.15% 10706647 36.11% 235 -71
Labour 258 39.75% 8604358 29.02% 189 -69
Liberal Democrat 57 8.78% 6827938 23.03% 150 93
Democratic Unionist Party 8 1.23% 168216 0.57% 4 -4
Scottish National Party 6 0.92% 491386 1.66% 11 5
Sinn Fein 5 0.77% 171942 0.58% 4 -1
Plaid Cymru 3 0.46% 165394 0.56% 4 1
Social Democratic & Labour Party 3 0.46% 110970 0.37% 2 -1
Green 1 0.15% 285616 0.96% 6 5
Alliance Party 1 0.15% 42762 0.14% 1 0
UK Independence Party 0 0.00% 917832 3.10% 20 20
British National Party 0 0.00% 563743 1.90% 12 12
Ulster Conservatives and Unionists – New Force 0 0.00% 102361 0.35% 2 2
English Democrats 0 0.00% 64826 0.22% 1 1
Respect-Unity Coalition 0 0.00% 33251 0.11% 1 1
Traditional Unionist Voice 0 0.00% 26300 0.09% 1 1
Christian Party 0 0.00% 18623 0.06% 0 0
Independent Community and Health Concern 0 0.00% 16150 0.05% 0 0
Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition 0 0.00% 12275 0.04% 0 0
Scottish Socialist Party 0 0.00% 3157 0.01% 0 0
Others 1 0.15% 319891 1.08% 7 6
Total 649 29653638
Each seat is worth 45620.98 votes

Download as OpenOffice Spreadsheet or Excel Spreadsheet

Why is there a difference in seats? There are 650 constituencies – each returning a single MP. However, “Thirsk and Malton” will not run their election until the 27th but I’ve “assumed” that their votes won’t make much of a difference (plus if I worked on just 649 seats, then the “seats under PR” column wouldn’t add up to 649 due to rounding: I’m not sure what you would do if a party gain 0.25 of a seat…)


  1. Huw Spanner Huw Spanner

    You are taking into consideration only one of the ways in which FPTP distorts the system (and, incidentally, I think you are being a little disingenuous in saying that “it’s possible (as indeed happened), for a party to get 23% of the vote but only 8.78% of the seats” – the fact is that FPTP has massively shortchanged Liberal/Liberal Democrat voters at every election for getting on for a century).

    FPTP encourages tactical voting – voting for the party people dislike less out of two main contenders – and discourages people from voting for someone they really believe in. It seems to me very likely that PR would reduce the share of vote of both Labour and the Conservatives and increase the shares of the Lib Dems, the Greens, the nationalists – and maybe the more extreme parties, too – that’s always possible.

    Second, FPTP gives inordinate influence to the corporate media, which court one or other of the two main contenders and either ignore all the other parties or dismiss them as “loony”. I think that in a more plural system the media would have to take the full range of political debate more seriously – and our national life would as a result become a little more mature.

    Third, I think that in time we would see a realignment of British politics. All of the big parties are anyway already coalitions, held together as much as anything by the dependence of individual politicians on their “machines”. Instead of one right-of-centre and two broadly left-of-centre parties (one semi-suppressed by FPTP and semi-ignored by the media), we might see the emergence of two blocs, one roc and one loc. Moreover, neither bloc would be tempted to “move to the centre ground” to attract votes, or conversely “move to the right/left”: they would just stand for what they stood for.

    Finally, it strikes me that if we had a system in which people could state their preferences, not just vote for one candidate, a much more sophisticated analysis of what was going on would be possible. If I switch my vote from Labour to Lib Dem, does it mean I have “rejected Labour”, as the media now insist? Or does it mean that I am merely voting tactically, because in my constituency a Labour vote is “wasted” and whereas in 2005 I felt at liberty to vote for the party I liked most, now I feel it is more urgent to vote to keep out the Tory (ie far from “rejecting” Labour, my switch of vote indicates that I am “rejecting” the Tories!) Or does it mean that, much as I still like Labour, I have decided that for the present I like the Lib Dems even more? PR can express these much more complex pictures, whereas FPTP distorts them and reduces them to something very crude and simple.

    I think it is deeply cynical to say that “of course” the Lib Dems campaign for PR because they would do better under it. Are only men allowed to campaign for equal pay, on the grounds that if women demanded it – well, of course they would, wouldn’t they, because they would benefit from it? I would say that FPTP is so obviously and outrageously unjust that only Labour and the Tories and their friends in the media defend it – of course, because they benefit from it. The Lib Dems are only asking for common justice.

  2. ThomasM ThomasM

    Nice analysis. Surprised this hasn’t already been done by the BBC and other sites.

  3. Thanks for this. Likewise, very surprised the BBC et al haven’t jumped on this. Really interesting.

  4. Rob Rob

    Completely unrealistic. Northern Ireland currently has 18MPs yet the above only gives 14MPs.
    For PR to work the constituency would be a specific area. So N.Ireland would be, say 3 areas – Ulster North, Ulster South and Belfast. The %votes in these areas would translate into MPs.
    Also the BNP vote share is spread out over most of the UK (except N.Ireland) so unless it has specific number of votes in one area then it’s unlikely to get any MPs. Anyway if it did get 1 or 2, is that such a problem?It is a democracy after all.
    The other PR option, which is used in Australia, is retain the individual constituencies, but an MP can only get elected with 50%+1 of the vote. So voters would number their choices 1-6 (if 6 candidates). During counting the votes are sorted and if no-one got the 50% level, the candidate in last position would have their votes redistributed out under the voters 2nd choice .. and so on until the 50% level is reached.

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