WHATEVER your politics, it might seem ungracious not to
congratulate David Cameron on his electoral success. He has not
only succeeded in remaining Prime Minister, but also presided over
a Conservative Party that has secured a majority in its own
Only 12 days before the election, Peter Kellner was writing in
The Sunday Times to say that, on the basis of the
evidence, he had now changed his mind, and that Ed Miliband would
be the next Prime Minister. Come the day, the pollsters were proved
wrong. Mr Cameron became the first Conser-vative PM for a very long
time to increase both the share of the vote and the number of seats
gained by his party in the House of Commons.
The vote-share, however, rose by only just over half a per cent,
and made up some 36 per cent of the votes cast. In contrast, the
Labour Party's vote increased modestly by just under twice as much
as the Conservatives, but, with about 30 per cent of the total
poll, Labour saw its number of seats decline yet again.
The votes of the other parties, meanwhile, were shared out
differently from the result in 2010. The Liberal Democrats' vote
plummeted, as did their seat tally. Even with about seven per cent
of the vote, they could hold only eight seats in a House of Commons
of 650 members.
UKIP achieved some four million votes, but won only one seat -
an outcome that makes the injustice to the Liberal Democrats and
their predecessor parties across the past 40-odd years almost a
sideshow. The Scottish Nationalists triumphed by gaining every
Scottish seat save three, while needing to poll only about half the
votes cast north of the border.
Such analysis conveys the impression that congratulations to Mr
Cameron are as much the kind one might give to a lottery-winner as
to someone who had gained the majority support of the British
people and then formed a government on the strength of it.
ALL electoral systems have their flaws. The haphazard outcome of
our first-past-the-post system is hard to equal in its unfairness.
Despite the modest parliamentary majority gained on this occasion
by using such a system, it cannot be denied that we now operate in
a multi-party environment. Gone are the days when the two main
parties could accumulate 95 per cent of the vote between them.
While there have been examples of poor coalition governments
throughout the world, there have been arguably many more successful
ones. The past five years have not been a disaster for the United
Proportional representation, in any case, does not necessarily
exclude the possibility of majority governments' being formed.
Scotland, and the Republic of Ireland, each with differing systems
of PR, have both demonstrated in recent years that, when the
electorate requires it, a majority government can be elected.
AS FOR the opinion polls, there was considerable impetus for
tactical voting, as people heeded them. Mr Cameron was eager to ask
both Liberal Democrat and UKIP voters to lend him their votes in
order to keep out a minority Labour government supported by the
Scottish Nationalists. How many did so, we shall never know. Given
the inaccuracy of the polling, many might have cast their vote on a
In a proportional system, voters would at least have been
enabled to cast their votes on a preferential basis, which would
have showed politicians what the electorate's favoured outcome was,
should there be no clear majority for one party. Our present system
asks us to second-guess the outcome on what can often be faulty
opinion polls or, even worse, spun statistics from political
IT IS becoming normative for local elections to be conducted on
the same day as those of our various parliaments. That does, of
course, increase turnout, where previously there has often been
minimal participation in the process. It still raises the question
whether we want to move towards a United States-style system of
candidates standing on a party ticket for almost every office under
Many of us went to the polls with little or no knowledge of the
local issues to be resolved, and had to note only the party
affiliation of the local candidates, for our guidance. It could be
a coincidence that the number of successful independent candidates
for local councils showed a significant drop. Paradoxically,
however, local democracy seems to be further diminishing, even as
the number of participant voters shows a welcome rise.
THERE are many invested interests. Buggins's turn will always
motivate the larger political parties to tolerate the proportional
unfairness of their own result, even when losing. Their turn will
come to impose their will on us, even though they could not secure
a majority of our votes.
Proportional representation is a matter of justice. It can and
does work in many varied states and countries. We should go for
The Rt Revd Martyn Jarrett is a former Bishop of