What now? And a glance back to what then.
Seven parliamentary elections were held in European countries in 2017. There were another two in 2018. 2019 has seen two already: in Finland and in Spain which held a snap election at the end of April. Two more will follow in the next couple of months: Belgium and Denmark.
The jury is out on whether the UK will hold one. The UK tends to imagine itself at the centre of attention all over Europe. Brexit developments might be reaching a crucial phase for us but over there countries are much more interested in their own politics.
Going back to 2017 we've still not heard a squeak from anywhere asking why the Tories with just 3% more vote share than Labour in the election were allocated 20% more seats in the Commons. Some discussion of electoral reform would surely have been a naturally arising political issue. Any media airing, let alone positive comment on, the parliamentary debate held 30 October 2017 based on a petition has also been hard to find. It seemed to make the impact of a pinprick on an exceptionally thick-skinned rhinoceros. Read the Hansard transcript though Commons Electoral Reform and you should be struck by the increasing quality of argument used by the reform campaigners. They showed up ever better how cliched, self-interested, out-of-touch and patronising the defenders of first-past-the-post always sound.
With our table for European election participation fully up-dated, it's more bad news for the UK. Spain's election produced an impressive 75.7% turnout taking it up to eighth. The UK goes back down to 12th out of sixteen.
Remember the 2017 UK election when our gushing pundits declared the 2.6% improvement in turnout from 66.5% in 2015 up to 68.7% in 2019 as a massive reawakening of interest in politics. Spain's turnout has just increased by 9.2% compared to its 2016 election.
Under first-past-the-post elections in the UK, not only are the voting intentions of the people distorted but commentary and analysis are at best subjective and at worst delusional. Will the pundits recognise they've left themselves short of an adjective big enough to describe the reawakening of political interest in Spain? Maybe, but it probably won't deter them from churning out more false and misleading claims next time round.
You know if you follow this website that we make it our business to expose them and give you an angle based on fact that will be very hard to find in the mainstream media.
See the table using the first link and get a broader picture of the oddities of first-past-the-post by clicking on any of the others:
November 2017: 2017, Year of 7 European Elections.
December 2016: FPTP change; stuck in a snowdrift?
Please keep up to date with the posts here that add real weight to the case for electoral reform.
The statistical outcomes of the 5 May 2005 UK General Election, once you know them, usher you into a political realm where reason and reality don't seem to make sense. New Labour got back into power with a fantastic 66 seat majority after landing just one in five of the available electoral votes.
To help with better understanding of this extraordinary level of distortion, we display results and analysis for the 2005 election in the Statistics option on the menu bar, along with data for the 2001, 2010, 2015 and 2017 elections (for a wider range of data and information you can also visit the Electoral Reform Society website).
As far as fairness is concerned, 2005 was as if a syndicate had somehow got away with a lottery jackpot win by matching three numbers. At Party HQ that night, the celebratory smiles hovering over the champagne glasses must have conveyed mixed feelings of delight and bemusement.
This website is called 5.5.5 & Counting because we are now fourteen years on with three more elections behind us and our democracy is still waiting for change. Supporters of this website want electoral reform which achieves two things without delay:
- the end of first-past-the-post, the system that is a convenient mechanism for levering into power one or other of Tory and Labour, the country's largest but, as our statistics show, two parties that combined have only once in this century gained more than 50% support
- a proper proportional voting system which achieves fairness for voters by reflecting national voting intentions
We'd welcome your comments on all our posts and, meanwhile, Click here for more detail on what we're about.
5 May 2005
European General Elections: vote shares of largest parties.
The table shows the vote shares gained by the four best supported parties in the most recent European elections in sixteen countries including the UK.
The table places countries in order of highest to lowest turnout. The French legislative parliament attracts low turnout in comparison to presidential elections and thus places France at the foot of the table. Much in the way of local and European elections in the UK many voters treat it as a bit of a sideshow. The largest party fell just short of an overall majority but gained consent of the assembly to lead. In Poland the voting constitution is complex and in 2015 for the first time a party achieved the necessary level of support to take government by itself.
Germany is being governed under a Grand Coalition which for the uninitiated is a coalition between the two largest parties. We were unable to clearly identify from available sources the exact arrangements under which Portugal is currently governed in its parliament.
At the foot of columns 5,6,7 and 8 we have shown the average support for the placings ranging from 30.5% for the largest to 9.2% for the fourth largest parties.
Beneath that we show by how much the UK varies from average and it can be seen that the variance at each placing is statistically huge. The second place variance is not far off the value of the average itself. If we remove France from the averages, the UK variances increase a little more.
Our data may help readers in terms of the following lines of investigation:
- Referring to Column 9, under proportional representation systems, is there a common pattern in the arrangements made for government? The small ‘s’ indicates a party that achieved fifth place support or lower.
- What levels of support do the largest parties attract (Column 5) and how evenly is support divided across the four largest parties (Columns 5 to 8)?
- If readers are interested in true levels of support in the electorate as a whole, the percentages in Columns 5 to 8 must be multiplied by the percentage turnout in Column 3. In each case actual support is a lower figure, increasingly lower until among the bottom-most rows, the figure will be approximately halved.
- The table will inform readers as to the distinctly different pattern shown up in the figures for the UK. It would have been even more evident had we taken Poland and France out of consideration, countries where the untypical factors mentioned above apply. Unusual circumstances did prevail at the time of the UK 2017 general election. But the largest party has often gained 40% and more in recent UK elections and the second largest over 30%.
- Electoral reformers can use this table as a step to identification of a model for proper proportional system of the type they wish to advocate for the UK. At first glance our analysis indicates both quantitative and qualitative differences between the top and lower halves of the table.
We hope you have found this data useful. We encourage you to circulate it among those who wish to bring about a real improvement to the UK’s democracy by moving us as quickly as possible to a PR system.
Rates of General Election Participation in European Countries
The table here shows the rates of participation in sixteen European countries. The UK is the only nation that has continued to use the first-past-the-post election system. All the others use proportional representation except France which operates a two-round presidential election. It usually ends up in a run-off between two candidates decided by a simple majority and we therefore show the turnout rate in the second round.
We aim to keep the table as up to date as possible by revising it every time one of the countries holds a new election.
The data is a snapshot that can be used for a variety of purposes the main ones being:
a) to evaluate and rank UK turnout against the other European countries (Column 7).
b) to allow readers to form a view on any relationship between the rate of turnout and the system of election in use (Column 6).
c) to indicate the approximate change in the number of UK voters who would turn out to vote if the rate of participation matched that of the other countries in the table (Column 8).
d) to calculate an average rate of turnout across the sixteen countries. As of 22 May 2019 this currently stands at 73.8% UK excluded and 73.5% included.
It’s been eighteen months since 555 & Counting was up-dated. The main explanation is things cropping up to hinder plans and create delays. That’s topical! All the same, the untypical voting pattern in 2017, out of alignment with the UK’s four previous elections, did have an influence in knocking us slightly off course. As did the Brexit imbroglio, too omnipresent to be prevented from silencing all arguments needing to be advanced for electoral reform.
The myth abounded even among eminent scholars that UK politics had bounced back to rude health. They claimed 2017 to be a massive return to two-party politics and ‘a big turn out’. Both were statistically untrue, as this website was pointing out in 2017 (see last para here) and (fourth para here). But real facts find traction in the public mind hard to come by. Factoids, truisms and positive sounding spins always get in the way.
As if to prove the point, I recently spoke to one of the country’s most celebrated and sought after election analysts after he’d given a presentation. He seemed slightly irritated that an evidently unqualified non-entity had stepped up to present him with the reality of those parliamentary seat distribution statistics. He dismissed them with disdainful waves of the hand and a comment something like ‘Oh, you always get that.’ Afterwards, I thought, had he been pressed or tired, he could have invited me to email him with the data.
This is a hot off the press up-date of our European general election participation table that records the impressive improvement by Spain in its election held at the end of April 2019:
Sweden and Italy held elections in 2018. It’s doubtful even young readers will live to see the UK achieve Sweden’s 87.2%. But when comparing ourselves to the three European economies roughly our size, including Italy, we fall well short of them.
Now we fall well short of Spain too. If our 2017 election had seen the same turnout rate as Spain’s this year, an additional 3.3 million Brits would have gone to the polls. We continue to accumulate evidence that first-past-the-post electoral systems suppress turnout. The US uses it and their last election got a turnout of 55.5%. The most powerful head of state in the world was elected with the support of not much more than one in four of his electorate. Something can’t be right, can it?
We are currently working on a different table that will analyse turnout rates in countries across the world that still hold to first-past-the-post systems. Forgive the spoiler but you probably won’t be surprised to learn that the turnout rates are not at all impressive.
The limitations and warts of first-past-the-post have become all too apparent as well during the Brexit deadlock. It has made it clearer to a wider audience that our two-party system is demonstrably in a deep malaise. Electoral reform is now even more urgent. We’ll go into learning the lessons of Brexit in more detail in a post to follow soon.
Seven parliamentary elections have taken place in European countries this year. In France and Austria turnouts declined, bringing them down to eighth and tenth ranks in our table. The Czech Republic and Norway were static.
In Germany and the Netherlands, turn-out increased by 4.7% and 7.3% respectively. Note in the up to date Participation Rate table both countries moving well up from their previous ninth and seventh places:
Advocates of the UK’s first-past-the-post electoral system, the only one persisting in Europe, argue that British voters would not like Westminster elections based on proportional representation. Just across the Channel, though, European electorates are mostly more motivated than Brits to go to the polls, as our table shows.The last column projects how many more Brits would have voted at that country’s turn out rate.
2017’s increase in UK turn-out of 2.6% from the relatively low starting point of 66.1% in 2015 and unimpressive twelfth place ranking, was touted by many as “a re-awakening of interest in politics”. Given the fanfare advance billing for Brexit – “the most crucial issue facing the nation since WWII” – 2.6% seems more like gently stirring from an afternoon nap. Numerically, though, 1.5 million extra voters did turn out, a moderate step in the right direction but fewer than Germany’s extra 2.7 million and not hugely more than the Netherlands’ 1.1 million extra, a country whose electoral size is a mere quarter of the UK’s. The issue of outstanding significance in the UK was massive vote redistribution mainly from the Liberal-Democrats and UKIP to Labour and Tory and from the Greens and SNP to a lesser degree.
In Germany, the right-wing party AfD attracted 13% of the vote, the same as UKIP in 2015. UKIP were allocated one seat in parliament, the AfD, ninety-four. Repeat: ninety-four. Under PR, UKIP would have got at least eighty. How we orbit on a politically different planet from the rest of Europe! Some would say democratically different too. This website may well not agree with UKIP policies but we unhesitatingly say they should have been defending eighty seats at the 2017 election, not one. Their standing in parliament would still be reduced no doubt. In fact under first-past-the-post’s ‘reality’, representation of their 1 million remaining voters’ views has magicked away altogether.
The UKIP party though has kept the lowest possible profile on electoral reform so we aren’t reaching for the box of tissues. With full knowledge of the situation they have placidly accepted living with the cruel fate that first-past-the-post, for all the foreseeable future, will unfailingly dole out to them and all parties of similar size and diffidence.
Quoting the AV-Referendum of 2011 is the easiest way for front-line media interviewers to block discussion of electoral reform.
This is a serious impediment to getting positive messages over to the public about PR. Electoral reform is discussed very rarely in mainstream media so any opportunities are precious. You will find a short video on our Facebook page called: Handling the false claim there is no demand for UK electoral reform.
The exchange is usually introduced by the reformer who makes a point about the FPTP system being unrepresentative and unfair. The interviewer typically responds quoting AV2011 and affirming it was rejected by the British people. The reformer nearly always tries to protest the truth, that it was never a true referendum for PR. The presenters know this very well but still cut things short by arguing it would have been a staging post in the right direction for something better…
In other words, the reformer is very easily made to seem on the defensive. A change of tactic is necessary and it can do no harm here to try and turn the tables by going on the attack.
So instead of going down the AV is not PR line, we should say that AV2011 was a mistake. It should never have happened. It was the Lib-Dem leadership’s fault that it went ahead at all.
It was a strategic blunder of huge proportions. There was no co-ordinated campaign and there was no widespread consultation or unity among potential partners. There was no coherent message, no flag flying* to get behind and the whole episode has been described as bad-tempered and ill-informed. It was held on the same day as local elections, renowned for low turn-outs, in many areas of England and sure enough the turnout was 42%.
A spade should be called a spade: the blame lies squarely with the Liberal-Democrat leadership. They wanted to chalk up something concrete to show for their Coalition status. On a hope and a prayer what they did was divert potentially more constructive pressure for electoral reform onto the sidelines, while providing enough ammunition to the status quo to last a generation.
There are several strands of evidence backing up the strategic naivety of the Lib-Dem leadership. Bear in mind that two of their party’s highest profile, flagship policies were electoral reform and Europe.
From the moment they decided to enter Coalition with the Tories, they made a number of bad judgements, the one mostly remembered being on tuition fees.
They demanded nothing on the EU – for example, a Minister for the EU or increased dissemination of positive aspects of EU membership.
Even if they thought they had a chance of winning it, they agreed to far too early a date for AV2011 which left no time for the necessary preparation and organisation referred to above.
The coalition was an opportunity to showcase a ‘PR-style alternative’ and demonstrate government need not resemble the fears FPTP advocates had always stoked up. The Lib-Dem leadership failed comprehensively – almost as if they did not grasp that the opportunity was a real one.
We should not attach blame to Liberal-Democrat voters. They made their feelings known in 2015 when support fell from an impressive 6.8m in 2010 all the way down to 2.4m.
The Liberal-Democrat legacy then is, if anything, a more tarnished image for PR and, more concretely, one year after the Coalition, a vote to exit from the EU.
Yet Mr Clegg when interviewed still convinces himself and tries to convince us that they did a great job of holding down the Tories. Denial is not helpful when looking for a way to topple the overbearing edifice that is AV2011. Parties to a future campaign for electoral reform must confess and agree that it was a big strategic blunder. The party to blame must take it on the chin and move on. It will be better for them and all the more condusive to the more assertive, positive and modern case for electoral reform this website promotes.
*It’s worth noting that the Remain campaign were much criticised for printing and distributing to every household a leaflet containing its arguments for staying in the EU. Despite the fact that each full facing page in the document was a glossy, colour photograph, not a single image of the EU flag was visible (nor at any other time in the campaign as far as we recall). A grave strategic error?