The Futility Monster

He'll pointlessly derive more enjoyment out of your resources than you

Posts Tagged ‘First Past the Post’

The Biggest Irony Of Election Night

Posted by The Futility Monster on May 6, 2011 @ 09:06

A very misleading photo of some guy

One quick thought for you.

Labour, in Scotland, suffered a “shellacking” at the hands of the SNP.

That defeat was magnified to a very large extent by none other than the First Past The Post electoral system.

You know, that system most of them came out and backed.

But wait!

Scotland doesn’t have just FPTP. It has the joyous Additional Member System, allowing additional MPs to be distributed in accordance with the PROPORTIONAL preference of the electorate. And, even better, taking into account seats already won under FPTP, thus correcting for its distortion.


To recap. Labour, facing meltdown at the hands of the First Past The Post electoral system in Scotland, are rescued from utter disaster by a fair voting system, enshrined in proportional representation.

“Lord” Reid, your boys took a hell of a beating.

How do you like them apples, Iain?


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What Price Democracy?

Posted by The Futility Monster on May 8, 2010 @ 09:42

Elections have consequences.

The consequence of this one seems to be that there will be a new government.

But at what cost?

The Lib Dems are right to take David Cameron’s offer extremely seriously. It is right to think carefully about both a) what are the must haves; and b) what are the can’t haves.

Because that’s what post-election discussions are all about. Clearly, any programme for government has got to pass both Lib Dem and Conservative muster. There will be some dilution as the process of consensus moves forward, but broadly the policies will survive.

But – with this in mind – I actually think that there is only must have.

I’m sorry to all of those Liberal Democrats hungry for power, but we cannot accept the tainted result of an illegitimate system as any kind of mandate for the Tories, or worse Labour, to proceed into government.

I’ve grown increasingly strident about this since a discussion I had with friends last night. The result was a disaster for the Lib Dems, yes, but only because we were shafted by a system that, once again, delivered a nonsense that makes a mockery of our democracy.

I like to make unreasonable demands of politicians, but I believe that Nick Clegg’s efforts so far to mobilise the anti-FPTP agenda have been poor. He made reference to it in his speech yesterday morning, but after that point no one else has done it. Groups like Take Back Parliament have emerged, and have a smattering of supporters, but this needs to go national.

One can understand, in these delicate times, that maybe it doesn’t look very professional to be trying to dominate the airwaves.

But Lib Dems, through their surrogates and sympathisers in the media, need to be putting the following at numbers 1, 2 and 3 in their must have list.

  1. Electoral reform
  2. Electoral reform
  3. Electoral reform

We need to start generating a campaign and serious momentum that, really, coalition or any agreement must come with a huge price tag. Nothing less than a big, open and comprehensive referendum on major electoral reform, to coin a phrase.

I know Labour will offer it. The Tories won’t. But that’s what negotiations are all about.

And if we can start creating an impression that the public are with us, all so much the better.

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Post-Election Day

Posted by The Futility Monster on May 7, 2010 @ 08:50

And so the fun continues into day two. After a mere 90 minutes sleep, I cannot sleep any more. So off we go…

1455 – regardless of what happens, I think all three leaders have been extremely dignified today. They look a bit humbled given the lack of ringing endorsement to any of them. “Chastened” is, perhaps, the right word. Have the public achieved exactly what they wanted?

1451 – how can Cameron tacitly admit that the electoral system is flawed and then say he doesn’t want to change it?

1444 – Is David Camron’s “Big, Open and Comprehensive Offer” a trap for the Lib Dems? Or is it the stuff that transforms a country truly in the national interest?

1440 – Cameron rewriting decades of political tradition here…

1417 – it’s truly remarkable that Clegg’s statement this morning has set a new constitutional precedent. Gordon Brown has acknowledged that Clegg has every right to look to work with the vote and seat winner of the election. That is very good. The constitutional position of the sitting prime minister getting first go, regardless of the circumstances, was ridiculous and unfair. Now Brown has accepted it, it sets a new precedent. And precedents, if they keep going, become part of the constitution. Until someone breaks them, like Clegg.

What a non-conformist!

1248 – these results need very details analysis. That will come in the days ahead. There are some remarkable regional differences underneath the general swing to the Tories. But what’s amazing is that if you draw a line from the Severn to the Wash, and exclude London, there are but a handful of Labour MPs. A rump regional party?

1235 – I can’t believe it sounds like the Tories are in open revolt.

1233 – fair point from Fraser Nelson about how difficult this is going to be for the Tories to get through a great deal of difficult parliamentary business if they choose to govern as a minority.

1149 – What are the options looking like from here?

Most likely: Cameron forms a minority administration with Lib Dem blessing.

Second most likely: Brown resigns, Lsbour seek to govern with Lib Dem support and new Prime Minister.

Third most likely, quite unlikely though: Lib Dems agree to a Labour programme of government, with Gordon Brown as PM.

Fourth most likely, very unlikely: Clegg refuses offer of programme for government from the Tories, group of MPs defect to the Tories to grant them a majority.

Not going to happen: any form of coalition government involving seats at Cabinet. Forget it.

1147 – I can’t wait to see what the new list of Lib Dem targets looks like. It seemed to me that there were a huge number of seats that were extremely close.

1130 – I think it’s time the media realised that The Alliance Party of Northern Ireland are a sister party to the Liberal Democrats. Jeremy Vine has just claimed “she is more likely to join Labour”.

1122 – Labour making it up as they gone along now. Lab+LD > Tories does not mean they have a right to govern if they are way short of a majority.

1113 – I predicted that things would move quite quickly today. It looks like that might be the case. Cameron to make a statement at 1430.

1058 – another election within a couple of years? I think so. The only question is whether there will be a referendum on voting reform in the meantime. My instinct says no.

1045 – Nick Clegg’s positional is constitutionally incorrect, but morally right. Labour should not have first chance to govern.

1043 – Clegg looking impressive in his statement, but he should have put the bit on electoral reform first. Someone show him the fucking numbers about the disgrace that has just transpired.

1032 – no, it didn’t. And no one has still answered the question: how can the Lib Dems possibly go into coalition with Labour when the parliamentary arthmetic is still against them?

1008 – time for breakfast. Will chocolate Ready Brek cheer me up?

0954 – Julia Hartley-Bitch talking utter shit about electoral reform on BBC News.

0951 – can the LDs scrape home in Brent Central? Oh, I hope so. Please. It’s been a cruel night, I feel it may now continue into the day after…

0934 – How on Earth did Scotland go through an election, five years after the last one, and produce the exact same result? What a load of bores. Do none of them change their minds?

0918 – can we please lose all these pundits telling us how sad the fucking markets are? This is POLITICS. Did Belgium collapse while they spent nine months forming a government? The people come first. We shouldn’t be letting our decision making be forced or clouded by the right-wing forces of economics.

0856 – fancy some more?

857k = 0 MPs
530k = 0 MPs

Mandelson has got one thing right. FPTP is on its last legs. But will the Tories put it out of its misery? Of course not.

0849 – 168k votes = 8 MPs
261k votes = 1 MP
6.3m votes = 51 MPs

Just another day in the life of First Past The Post.

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A Lib Dem Vote Is A Wasted Vote

Posted by The Futility Monster on May 5, 2010 @ 09:51

… if you think the country needs a Strong Conservative™ government, elected by just 35% of the electorate, representing no more than 20% of the population, and awarded 100% of the power because of a totally flawed system that no one has ever voted for.

In my eyes, the First Past The Post electoral system has no legitimacy whatsoever. Tomorrow, I, like millions of other people, will cast yet another in a long list of ballots which have had no impact on the result, in a futile attempt to pretend that somehow I am doing my bit for the country.

But we let it go on.

One day I dream that I will be able to see my vote count towards something. One day I dream that I won’t need to consider spoiling my ballot paper because there is not an appropriate option for me. One day I dream that political parties won’t spend all their time only focusing on a handful of people in a smattering of middle-class areas that have little relation to what goes on in the majority of the country.

But we let it go on.

This is once in a lifetime chance to change that. Just this once, share with me a hope that a decent Liberal Democrat performance will finally put to bed generations of a cozy, corrupt two-party consensus that has seen the concept of Buggins’ Turn being turned into a principle for governing a major economic power. That’s not democracy. That’s a sham.

But we let it go on.

It may be another 30 years before this opportunity arrives again. Don’t for a second believe a Labour Party whose deathbed conversion to fake-PR is fleeting, skin deep, and designed to ensnare Liberal Democrat sympathisers into thinking they’ve seen the light. They lie. They do not support the principle of fairness. They might have once, but when the party sold its soul to the Blairite elite, it betrayed its working class roots so deeply that it should never be trusted again.

There is only one way to secure the political reform that this country needs, and that is to send the biggest number of Liberal Democrat MPs to Parliament in a century. Only the Liberal Democrats genuinely believe in the political reforms needed to bring this country into the modern age. Fair votes. Equal democracy. Transparency. Fixed-term parliaments. Real devolution of power.

We’ve had the same old, same old now since The Second World War War. The same, tired old politics of division, of fear, of patronage, of secrecy, of deceit, of complicity in illegal wars and torture, of authoritarian, statist solutions to everything, of wasted years, squandering away our unique economic and cultural position in the world for all the wrong reasons.

We’ve let it go on for too long.

Don’t let it go on this time.

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Labour’s Death Throes

Posted by The Futility Monster on May 4, 2010 @ 10:11

Unless they can't win. In fact, just don't vote for them at all.

This story is actually incredible.

To me it shows a few things.

First, Labour is admitting defeat. It is clearly a sign that Labour know they cannot possibly win a majority, and that in order to leave them in with a chance of staying in power, they need to ensure that the road ahead for the Conservatives is as bumpy as possible.

In some ways, though, Labour are only telling people to take the sensible option given our voting system. Take a LD-Con marginal like Eastleigh. It makes no sense for Labour voters to vote Labour there if their most hated candidate in the race is the Conservative. They could vote Lib Dem and at least make sure the Tory loses.

Nevertheless, no major party has ever been explicit that this is what the electorate should do. Usually it’s all about “getting the maximum vote for our party”. Changing the record now with just two days to go is a sign of desperation, no doubt about it.

The second point is that it is the biggest admission by the Lab-Con axis that the electoral system is totally flawed. By acknowledging the fact that millions of people across the country are going to be casting “wasted votes” unless they vote tactically, it is a potentially significant development. How can Labour, including Peter “Back Door” Hain, possibly get away with not supporting electoral reform after this revelation?

Finally, it is the clearest sign yet that Labour are prepared to work with Liberal Democrats on constitutional reform. After all, Labour have been the biggest tinkerers of the constitution in generations. They’re not averse to the option, and if it’s all they have to do to keep power…

Though it’s all coded, and all very subtle, it’s becoming very apparent that Labour both know they won’t win outright, and know their only hope is of a coalition or other deal which supports Lib Dem policies in return for a Lib Dem backing of a Labour Queen’s Speech.

In advance of the election, the Lib Dems are right to reject Labour’s advances. It is not good to admit at any point that you are weak and in danger of being propped up. Especially for the Lib Dems, where even if they don’t secure many more seats, a large number of votes will make the case for reform of its own accord.

That Labour would enter into such a strange game, one that damages its own message of how the Lib Dems cannot be trusted because of their inexperience, speaks volumes as to how worried they must be in the Bunker.

Now is the time for Lib Dems to strike a blow against Labour. There will never be another chance for the Labour Party to be replaced as the true party of the centre-left, of the progressive axis in British politics.

Labour is weakened. Labour is dying.

But can the Lib Dems take advantage, in spite of the electoral mountain that faces them?

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The Arrogance Of FPTP

Posted by The Futility Monster on April 19, 2010 @ 11:58

If only it was...

David Cameron is sounding the alarm bells!

David Cameron has warned a vote for Nick Clegg could leave Britain “stuck” with Labour and said only the Tories can bring “real change”.

He said people were “fed up with the status quo” but without a decisive Tory win “fudge and division” was risked.

In other words, Mr Cameron would like power all to himself, thank you very much, because that’s what everyone’s been saying he was going to get for the past few years, and it’d be awfully mean of you to spoil his plans.

I find it breathtakingly arrogant that David Cameron has the gall to imply that only his party, not the Liberal Democrats, can do something about the status quo.

But wait a minute. Haven’t Labour been warning for years that a vote for the Lib Dems is “a wasted vote”? Andrew Adonis was only calling upon all Lib Dems to unite against David Cameron’s conservatism in a show of progressive unity only a week or so ago. And all that was before the debate had even happened.

First Past the Post denies voters the freedom to choose. It forces us to make a ridiculous judgement in a two-horse race. It ensures that the main two parties always get to make up stories about the bogeymen and women waiting in the third, fourth and various other parties.

Remember 2005? There was this man called Peter Hain, apparently, and he went around the country telling everyone that we really shouldn’t vote Lib Dem because it might let the Tories in “through the back door”. I even wrote about it.

So which is it? Are we letting the Tories in, or are we voting Clegg, getting Brown? Of course, it was bullshit then, and it’s bullshit now. Yes, certain seats, where Lib Dems are a distant third, may indeed produce an unsatisfying party switch. But in the rest, if people switch in sufficient numbers, a Lib Dem vote will deliver a Lib Dem MP.

The truth is neither of these stories are credible. They are designed to scare the electorate into old habits, and perpetuate this rotten paralysis of the two-party, choice free, state.

The real story, however, is much more exciting, but not for the old two parties. The truth could turn the country on its head, and might bring in some very pleasant surprises for all of us. Even non Lib Dems. And, you know, there might not even have to be coalition governments.

Tomorrow I’ll do a little crystal ball gazing. Three posts about three possibilities that could happen if the Lib Dem vote surge continues. I don’t think you should miss them.

In the meantime, please remember to Go Yellow on May 6!

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FPTP: Frankly Pathetic; Totally Preposterous

Posted by The Futility Monster on April 12, 2010 @ 18:12

We Lubs Disproportionate Results!

One of the great defences of our shit electoral system is to say that it is “simple” for voters to both understand and to use. Just get your ballot paper, smear it with a cross (or a smiley face; Returning Officers are very tolerant!) in the appropriate box, and you’re done. Later, we count them up, and whoever gets the most votes wins. Easy!

Proportational representation fans are sometimes flummoxed by this assault. We let the other side get free-hits by saying things are so complicated they have to be counted by computers, and that explaining the counting process is impossible without a degree in mathematics.

But we do ourselves a disservice.

First Past The Post may make it easy to cast a vote, but it is blunt. It allows no nuances, and it certainly doesn’t care how many candidates are in the race.

Voting is something a lot of people take a lot of time over. They umm and ahh about who they should go for, often proceeding on a least-worst option. How can I hurt the candidate I don’t want to win the most? Which one of these candidates do I hate the least? Their preference can change daily.

But in the end, if you have FPTP, none of that thinking matters. You get one chance. If you’re not thinking like everyone else, your vote could be wasted.

So you go back to the drawing board. You try to think like everyone else. You see where the zeitgeist is headed. Which national party has the big momentum. You balance all of these factors, and you end up with what psephologists call tactical voting.

Tactical voting. It doesn’t sound very democratic, does it.

That’s because it isn’t. FPTP limits your choice. It forces you to try to think like everyone else. It squeezes you into a box. It doesn’t allow you to express your real preference, because you don’t want to be one of those wasted votes, do you? It’s a two-horse race, don’t forget.

Tactical voting, and its associated thought processes, actually make FPTP one of the most difficult electoral systems. The poor voter is left with a multitude of factors to weigh up, and that’s assuming they even know what the result was last time. Not everyone knows that you can get the result from last time in seconds off Wikipedia. And then there is the prospect of local parties spinning different election results in different ways to try to prove that they are “the only alternative”. Lib Dems, I’m looking at you…

The culmination of all this is utter confusion, a muddled mess that we expect each and every voter to have to work through in their heads. A purportedly democratic system that only allows people the choice they actually want if they fortunate enough to live in a constituency that allows it. The rest of us live our lives in glorious perpetual safeness, never feeling that joy of being part of a campaign that really could decide the future of the country.

A preferential system, on the other hand, would give everyone the chance to have their vote be worth something. And not only that, they really could express a truly democratic choice, of having their vote fully reflect their beliefs.

So the next time someone says First Past The Post is “simple”, why not remind them just how difficult the choice actually is for the average voter…

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Posted by The Futility Monster on February 17, 2010 @ 10:29

Haven't you always wanted one of these? I know I have...

“Still I need your swing” – almost sang The Kooks in one of their not very good songs that still sticks in my head.

Recently on, long time poster Andy Cooke has written a few articles which have postulated his own theory as to what the election result will be based on various percentage results. They have been hailed as a major breakthrough of the conventional wisdom regarding UNS – Uniform National Swing.

The problem in my mind is that, while Andy’s work is excellent, it is not particularly revolutionary.

No one has ever suggested swing is indeed uniform. After all, Labour took the previously rock solid Tory seat of Crosby in 1997 with the night’s biggest “swing” of 18%; but the national swing was a mere 10%. UNS has always been an extremely simple tool to allow a very quick analysis of a result, to give a rough-and-ready idea of where an election is heading. It was more useful in the days of Labour v Tory, but these days, the plethora of third-parties makes using it for accurate projections extremely dangerous.

As such, I have never paid much attention to it. For years conventional wisdom has been saying the Tories need a 10% lead over Labour just to achieve a majority of 1. That has been based on our old friend, UNS, working in tandem with our appalling electoral system (have I mentioned that I hate our electoral system before?).

But, since everyone knows UNS is very rough, it has always been right to ignore such models. Clearly, the only seats that matter are the marginals, thanks to our electoral system, which, in case you’ve forgotten, I hate. If the Tories are indeed not making much impact in the Labour heartlands, who cares? Instead, if they’re doing well in Middleoftheroad Central and Sittingonthefence West – achieving very high resonance beyond what the national figures are saying, then it really is all over.

All that, and so far I’ve not even mentioned the dreaded “tactical voting”. This has the potential to magnify or dull any speculated surge to the leading party. After all, if non main-party voters decide they’ve had enough of Labour, the Tories will get a bonus. Conversely, if they don’t want Cameron in, Labour’s seat tally where it really counts will get a small but significant boost.

UNS is dead as a serious tool for predicting election results, but the fact is it has been for a very long time. Why else would Electoral Calculus have been providing the ability to set tactical voting parameters and “regional swings” for many years?

All Andy Cooke has done is piss on its grave.

Nevertheless, it is very good work, and it is a very useful addition to our toolbox for predicting what may be the most unpredictable election in modern times…

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The Lucky Few (Hundred Thousand?)

Posted by The Futility Monster on July 22, 2009 @ 00:55

Ain't Democracy Appealing?

Ain't Democracy Appealing?

As we all know, the next election will probably not be decided by you or me.

That’s because for the vast majority of us, we live in a constituency that is almost certain to deliver the same result as it always has done.

In my case, it will be Labour. It has been Labour for some time… though – and this almost blows my argument apart before I even start – it was once a Tory seat.

But what gets me back on track is that the change was down to demographics, as the fortunate middle class or the working class who succeeded moved out, leaving behind the classic Labour voter.

Demographics is always the most tedious of electoral explanations. It basically means people have moved. Or favourable things have happened in the birth or migration rates for certain populations. Hardly a principled sign that people have thought carefully about the alternatives presented to them and made a positive choice for one party over another…

Anyway – these safe seats mean that any election bypasses most of us by. Some of us may be fortunate enough to experience the clamour of a by-election. But, again, they are the lucky few.

Ferdinand Mount, a name I’d rather forgot from my politics degree, estimated that there are around 800,000 people in the marginal seats across the UK who decide which party gets elected to power. Hardly a sign of a burgeoning, flourishing democracy.

The rest of us have to be content with our vote merely showing up in the popular vote figures as Jeremy Vine dances in front of the new laser-powered swingometer. And, as the Americans will tell you, the national popular vote doesn’t really count for much.

In some ways, all of this rather shines a revealing light on the pointlessness of democracy. Rational choice theory would suggest that for the average, rational, self-interested Joe or Joeina, the costs of voting far outweigh the benefits. The chances of being the one who casts the decisive vote in an election are as close to zero as they possibly can be. Results are rarely tied, or go one either way, so there’s no incentive for a voter to think “If I hadn’t voted… X would have won”.

And yet most of us still vote. And not just the lucky 800,000. I will still be there casting my ballot, no matter how futile the whole operation. No matter how obvious it is that the useless Labour clown will win.

Part of the problem is, of course, the electoral system. First Past The Post gives us all of these safe seats in the first place. Genuine electoral reform – using the Single Transferable Vote – would give us a chance to make some progress. It would give more of the people the chance to influence the result, rather than simply focusing on the narrow whims of the elite band who matter in the marginal seats: seats which do not reflect the full diversity of Britain today.

But even with that, genuine democratic choice will still remain the preserve of the few. After all, the necessary evil of the party system, and the nature of our Westminster-centric democracy are two of the greatest barriers which keep people out of the loop.

And then there will always remain the stubborn, and growing, ranks of the non-voter. Those who just don’t care either way but will moan all the same.

All of this adds up to a rather unsatisfactory outcome. Democracy is our best bet, in spite of all its flaws, all its failings, and the willingness of the people who live under it to become apathetic and unappreciative of the benefits it brings.

Democracy: the least-worst option.

Hardly inspiring.

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