Alpesh Patel’s Political Sketchbook: The Humbling Democratic Deficit

Wednesday 10th July 2024 07:14 EDT

First, Labour’s dispersion of voters is such that they can at merely one in five eligible voters voting for them still win an election.

At just 21% of the eligible voters, actually voting for them, Labour won 63% of the seats. So perverse is the electoral system. (They had 35% of the vote, on a 60% turnout).

Never before in the history of British elections has a party won with such a low percentage of votes.

Never in the history of British elections has a party had just enough of its voters spread efficiently so that with such a low spread of voters it can win enough seats.

To understand this – think of it this way; Labour tend to have lower majorities in constituencies, but more of them – it’s just the way their vote is spread and so they tend to win more seats per voter.

So pronounced is Labour’s advantage that in 2005 more people actually voted Conservative than Labour in England– but the Conservatives won 92 fewer seats than Labour within England (285 to 193).

Put another way Labour can get 55% of the seats with only 36% of the votes cast in 2005, and in 2024 can get 63% of the seats with only 35% of the votes cast.

Whereas everyone else combined with 65% of the votes can only manage 37% of the seats.

The Tories with 70% as many votes as Labour, only got 30% as many seats as them.

It’s just as bad for the Lib Dems – with a 1/3 of the votes of Labour, they have 1/6 of the seats.

Don’t look to America for removing a Democratic deficit. There have been five US Presidents taking office, with the losing candidate having more votes. Most recently Trump and Bush were minority ‘winners’.

Of course, we in the West are quick to lecture other nations on their Democratic deficit. Take India the world’s largest democracy whose majority party leader has had more people casting a vote for his leadership than any other elected leader in the history of the world. Everybody is for democracy until they disagree with its outcomes. Worst still are those who cannot accept others may have perfected it – little like India beating England in the cricket. But it’s ‘our game’.

The business lesson is focus on what leads to wins. Small things in the right place. Not everything. Think strategically. Focus on the marginals with high impact.

One a personal note, my politics tutor at Oxford was the UK’s number 1 authority on General Elections – Dr David Butler. This was a man who sat down for drinks with Churchill to discuss election strategies – and indeed with pretty much every Prime Minister since.

Dr Butler and I would sit for my tutorials, one to one, discussing modern British Government. He had been persuaded out of semi-retirement by another politics tutor to teach me over the Summer before I started work in the US Congress on a bursary I’d won.

It amazes me that the 1970 General Election, before I was born, was co-hosted on BBC by Dr Butler, and my grandfather would have seen the man who would become my tutor before I was even born.

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