Denseman on the Rattis

Formerly known as the Widmann Blog


A better way to elect the UK parliament

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When people in the UK discuss alternatives to the current electoral system used for Westminster (first-past-the-post), they tend to look towards Ireland, Australia or possibly Germany, but never Scandinavia.

However, the system used there has many advantages, and indeed people there just take it for granted, so it must have got something right!

To make the Danish electoral system tangible, I have therefore made a simulation of the UK General Election 2005 according to the Danish system. (It’s quite long, so feel free to skip down to the results instead of reading all the details.)

Here are some of the advantages of the Danish system:

  • Every vote counts. Even if your vote doesn’t get anybody elected where you live, it will count towards your party elsewhere in the country. This combats the way parties under FPTP tend to concentrate all their efforts on swing voters in marginal seats.
  • The politicians need to get themselves elected, not just their party. A politician will typically be up against at least ten other candidates from their own party, and it is therefore important to have a personal agenda, not just to toe the party line.
  • Need to be positive. When all votes count, if party A claims party B are evil, it might benefit party C or D just as easily as party A. So instead, party A needs to give the voters reasons to vote for them.
  • It preserves some sort of constituency link. Given that it’s still the constituencies that put up candidates, and given that MPs are elected in small groups of constituencies, there is still a very strong local link, and it’s easy to understand how to get rid of a bad MP.
  • Results are available quickly. Like FPTP, but unlike STV, results come in quickly, thus providing for a good election night experience.
  • Opinion polls are right. Under FPTP, there is no simple correlation between share of the vote and number of seats won, so a party can lose votes but gain seats and vice versa. Under the Danish system, more votes leads to more seats, and opinion polls will therefore accurately predict how many MPs each party will get.
  • Parties become truly national. Under FPTP, most parties tend to get most of their MPs elected in specific geographical areas (LibDems in the South West, Labour in the cities, the Tories in rural England). The Danish system spreads out the MPs more evenly, so that the LibDems will get fewer seats in the South West but more in the cities and rural England, Labour will get fewer seats in the cities but more elsewhere, etc. (This is not taken to extremes. The SNP only gets seats in Scotland – it’s not artificially extended to England.)

6 thoughts on “A better way to elect the UK parliament

  • Obviously, the LibDems would like this. They gained big time on your analysis. It also looks like it’d be more balanced overall.

  • Actually, the LibDems would do better under Sainte-Laguë without additional top-up seats. If you look at step 3, their top-up seats make up 19% of their constituency seats, compared to 22% for Labour and 25% for the Tories.
    Apart from that, the LibDems have committed themselves to STV, and they’re trying to convince everybody that that is the way forward.

  • True, I had forgotten that bit. However, as you can see, I’m not using them for parties competing against each other, but just to prevent too many votes from being wasted because it’s different parties standing in Northern Ireland and Great Britain.

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