Joe Hendren

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Sunday, May 08, 2005

Blair's re-election under FPP and some NZ comparisions

On Friday I watched BBC World for almost 7 hours straight. Home from work with a flu, I wasn't capable of doing much else. Luckily there was an election to watch. Overall I thought the BBC coverage of the UK election was excellent, my only gripe being the almost complete lack of coverage for the smaller parties (listing number of seats won as 'others' does not tell you much)

With thousands of the British left deserting Tony Blair for the Liberal Democrats over issues such as the Iraq war and 'top-up' fees, there was a danger the perverse electoral system known as First Past the Post (FPP) would split the anti-tory vote.

Through 7 hours there were many panellists commenting on the results as they came in. I found one recurring theme very interesting - the faults of the UK FPP electoral system. Both the presenters and 'commentators' felt the need to explain the vacancies of FPP to 'international viewers', remarking on how unusual it was for a European country like the UK not to have a form of proportional representation, where parties like the Liberal Democrats would gain a share of seats that reflected their level of popular support. I felt a great sense of deja vu - it reminded me of similar discussions in New Zealand on election night 1993, our last FPP election.

One BBC commentator pointed out that while many of the British people did not regard George Bush as a legitimate president in 2000 on the basis he did not win the popular vote, they did not seem to realise a similarly undemocratic result could also occur in their own backyard. This is exactly what happened in FPP elections in New Zealand in 1978 and 1981, where a National government was re-elected with a majority of seats, despite the fact the Labour party actually gained more votes.

Tony Blair has been re-elected with the lowest popular support (35.2%) of any government in UK history, yet Labour has gained 55.1% of the total seats. Over 64% of British voters wanted somebody else, with 32.3% supporting the Conservatives, 22% the Lib Dems and 10.4% supporting other parties.

In 1993 National kept the NZ government benches despite only gaining the support of 35.1% of New Zealand voters (gained 50 seats), a record low for NZ. The left vote was split between Labour (34.7%, 45 seats) and the Alliance (18.2%, two seats), a legacy of the forth Labour government's far right economic policy, including large scale privatisation and introduction of tuition fees. In 1993 NZ Labour was still led by a right winger (Mike Moore) and included right-wing MPs in its caucus (Prebble). Likewise, the split of the UK left vote in 2005 can be squarely blamed on the Blairites. Invading Iraq, removing civil liberties, allowing universities to set tuition fees and privatisation of public services ought to have undermined UK Labour's traditional support. Thankfully for democracy, it did.

Hopefully for democracy the emergence of genuine three party politics in the UK will demonstrate the need for electoral reform, as greater support for 'third' parties did in NZ from 1978 onwards. Once FPP may have looked like an innovation in democracy, now it's just a dinosaur.

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At 1:27 PM, Blogger Uroskin said...

One cannot assume that people vote the same way under a FPP and MMP system because the tactical vote decisions are different under each. In NZ we can split our vote, something that was impossible under FPP, so the dynamics of elections, campaigns and candidate selection are very different under both systems. I think the biggest argument for MMP is that there are no wasted votes (a fact of life that contributes to low turnouts in FFP electorates in UK and USA) and I would be quite happy to see NZ do away with electorate seats altogether and go to a 100% list system. This would obviate the need for separate Maori electoral rolls and seats as any party can get into parliament based on its own electoral strength rather than having to rely on individuals and ethnic make up.


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