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Why UK Labour lost? Part 2: UK Labour’s Strange loyalty to First Past the Post.

Written By: - Date published: 2:56 am, January 13th, 2020 - 13 comments
Categories: electoral systems, First Past the Post, labour, political parties, Politics, uk politics - Tags: , , ,

I’ve made the point a number of times before, during and immediately after the election on this blog about the First Past the Post electoral system. I’ll make it again, the results in parliament DO NOT reflect the true vote. Labour won 10,269,076 votes in the general election. In terms of vote count this is its second best result since 2001. As a percentage of the vote labour received 32.2% in 2019. By contrast Labour’s percentages were 30.4% in 2015 and 29% in 2010. That the party had its worst results in terms of seats in parliament exposes the electoral system as not delivering results that represent public opinion.

labour vote 2001-2019

Graph showing Labour’s total vote in each election since 2001.

The Attlee Government lost power in 1951, despite increasing its vote and winning more votes than Churchill’s Conservative Party that took office in that election. The government that created the NHS was brought down by First Past the Post. Yet Labour and many of its supporters in the UK continue to oppose electoral reform. Unite the Union, Labour’s largest affiliate union, recently took the position that electoral reform was not a priority instead wishing to focus on getting Labour elected. Because UK Labour continue to support First Past the Post, on its own terms it did suffer a terrible loss.

Electoral reform wouldn’t have won Labour this election. That the Party lost 2.5 million votes in two years makes it a bad election under any voting system. Yet for the Conservatives to have increased their vote by just over 1% between 2017 and 2019, yet this resulted in them gaining 48 seats in parliament shows how strange the FPP system really is.

For Labour, part of their analysis needs to be looking at how the current voting system does not serve their supporters or democracy as a whole well. And hasn’t for a long time. Proportional representation doesn’t guarantee left wing governments, both New Zealand and Germany have had many years of right wing government under this system. But it does mean the make up of parliament reflects the will of the people.

See earlier posts in this series:

Why Labour Lost Part 1: Historical Context

13 comments on “Why UK Labour lost? Part 2: UK Labour’s Strange loyalty to First Past the Post.”

  1. Sanctuary 1

    English support for FPTP is the English trait of myopic refusal to learn from either Johnny foreigner or upstart colonials and a slavish adherence to tradition for it’s own sake at it's best.

    In their curiously insular way, the poms are constantly surprised to find out that we have a Westminster system using a PR voting system, yet IMHO we come closest to being a model on how they could structure their system.

  2. Gosman 2

    The British held a referendum on changing the election system back in 2011 as it was part of the conditions of the coalition between the Conservatives and Liberal-Democrats. It soundly rejected moving away from the FPTP system by over 2/3rds. There is currently no groundswell of opinion to revisit the issue. Perhaps if there was such a movement like there was in NZ before our switch to MMP then it would pay for UK Labour to adopt this as a key policy platform. If there isn't then this will just be another policy that will turn off many British voters.

    • nickkelly 2.1

      The 2011 was not for Proportional Representation. And no effort was really made to run a decent campaign explaining the benefits.

      Not suggesting it should be Labour's top election policy. But it could do something like propose a Royal Commission like NZ did back in 1986. And internally Labour can be engaging its 600,000 members on why PR is better for left of centre Party's overall.

      There is deep dissatisfaction with politics in the UK presently. A proper campaign for PR could tap into this.

      • Gosman 2.1.1

        There's this view expressed by many that PR is the best system ever and if only people are exposed to it they will flock to it in numbers. The referendum in 2011 came about because the Liberal-Democrats wanted electoral reform (for entirely understandable but selfish reasons). Presumably they were aware of different forms of PR. They could have pushed for the referndum to be between a form of PR like MMP and FPTP however they didn't. Do you not think there may have been a reason why?

  3. Dennis Frank 3

    Our MMP campaign was led by Rod Donald, who proceeded to serve in parliament as Greens co-leader, but it was not seen as a Greens thing. It was seen as a movement of citizens fed up with National and Labour. It succeeded due to revulsion against neoliberalism (Rogernomics & Ruthenasia).

    The duopoly were representing elites, not the people. The prescription was imported – the Bilderberg agenda – but the media, not wanting to look like conspiracy theorists, simply credited Thatcher/Reagan.

    To what extent does UK disaffection arise from the same source. Well, the Bilderbergers haven't changed their agenda, have they? Duh!

    Voters, being thick, need something easier to blame. They don't know that the EU is the primary Bilderberger project, hitherto successful. Brexit was caused by the alienation produced by EU mandarin governance, but it hasn't caused sufficient bipartisan disgust to make UK voters identify the two main parties as guilty. Support for proportional representation would only become contagious in the electorate if folks realised it would be better than the binary flip between two bad options. They could have learnt from the German model, but voters are mostly too parochial to do that.

    I wouldn't expect Labour to endorse PR in principle unless a citizen campaign for it began to draw public support. Leaders are really followers nowadays…

    • McFlock 3.1

      Yeah, a major factor in the referendum was that the nats had accelerated rogernomics especially with the 1991 budget, when they'd actually campaign on reversing it – e.g. removing the lab4-introduced student loan scheme, and instead they raised fees and skyrcketed student loans.

      Another was the big money campaign supporting FPP (Shirtcliffe) – in some ways MMP cemented in the rogernomic bullshit (it is a barrier to revolutionary reforms), but does moderate the "elected dictatorship" status of government. Two sides of the same coin.

    • Drowsy M. Kram 3.2

      UK voters: "thick" and "parochial" – nice one Dennis.

  4. Matthew Hooton 4

    In New Zealand, both Labour and National supported FPP in the early 1990s. Duopolies don’t want new entrants. So no surprise UK Labour is taking this position. Both it and the Conservatives are over-represented in the House of Commons, and that’s how they both like it.

    • Gosman 4.1

      Yes, UK Labour wouldn't be able to be as radical as Corbyn made it under MMP as it would have to rely on support from centrist parties. Instead of calling for electoral reform perhaps the leftists should contemplate moderating the left wing policies as they have more chance of being elected under the current system if they did so than waiting for MMP where they won't be able to implement them anyway.

  5. DS 5

    British Labour's distaste for FPP is quite simple – it doesn't want every election decided by the Liberals. I'd also point out that British Labour won February 1974, despite getting fewer votes than the Tories – sure there's 1951, but there's also a case of Labour benefiting from FPP, so its loyalty is hardly strange.

    British Labour actually needs to switch over to support for proportional representation for a different reason – the electoral realignment taking place in Britain will act as an anti-Labour gerrymander.

  6. TootingPopularFront 6

    This was always the plan, the tories getting a disproportionate number of seats compared to votes: https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/tories-rig-next-election-planned-boundary-changes-benefit-a8471811.html

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