The dust has settled on what was an interesting and (if you put any weight on political polls) surprising result in the UK General Election last week. There are a couple of points that made it interesting from this blog’s point of view that I would like to bring to your attention.
The first is the variation between the nationwide votes that a party’s candidates received and the number of seats it received in the House of Commons. For example, Conservative candidates received just shy of 37% of the vote but ended up with 331 seats (51% of the total of 650 seats). Conversely, the UK Independence Party’s candidates received 12.6% of votes cast and managed to win one seat (0.15% of the total seats available). The Green Party and the Liberal Democrats also received more votes than their proportional share of seats in the House.
This is explicable, of course, by the fact that the UK’s voting system (First Past the Post) does not consist of asking voters to vote for a party, but instead provides voters with a choice of individual candidates in a particular geographical area (an electorate) to represent them in Parliament. (Having said that, with the party political system in place in the UK many, if not most, votes are not cast for a candidate as an individual, but as a representative of a party. Thus, in safe seats it is sometimes said that a donkey would be elected if it wore a blue (or red) rosette. If this is true, then most votes cast are in fact “party” votes and not votes for an individual.)
The benefits of such a system include that each MP is answerable directly to the voters and that it tends to provide stability in government. The downsides are that the results are not proportionate to the party’s total vote and that it benefits the concentration of sympathetic voters in particular electorates rather than the same number of voters spread across many electorates – increasing the temptation and effect of gerrymandering.
The second interesting point is that in Scotland the electorate of Paisley and Renfrewshire South elected Mhairi Black over Douglas Alexander. In itself this is significant as Alexander was the Labour Party’s Chair of General Election Strategy and shadow foreign secretary – in short a star of the Labour party. Alexander’s loss is therefore a indication of how low Labour’s fortunes fell in Scotland, one of its traditional heartlands. Even more remarkable is the fact that Ms Black is a fourth year law student at Glasgow University and is only 20 years old. She was only two years old when her opponent was first elected to the House of Commons. In fact, she is the youngest MP in Britain since Christopher Monck was elected nearly 350 years ago. Monck was the son of the famous General George Monck who was instrumental in restoring the Monarchy in 1660. In 1667 Christopher Monck was elected MP for Devon. He was 13 years old at the time. So the record for youngest MP in Britain ever is probably safe for a while longer. With an ageing population, young MPs like Mharir Black will probably prove to be exceptional. Presumably ageing voters will prefer older representatives.
Another reason that Black will probably be an outlier for now is that party machines may prove adverse to nominating candidates who have had a Twitter account since they were 14. Ms Black has had to delete a few of her earlier tweets that are perhaps best described as “ill-advised”. A salutary lesson for us all to be careful what you write on the internet: it’s there forever.
(PS In a couple of decades all political candidates will, no matter their age, have had social media accounts for many years. Can you imagine the fun that will be had by pundits and other candidates as those accounts are mined for incriminating or embarrassing statements?)