UK Election: Tory Victory A Disaster of Britain and the Democratic Process
Some of the worst nights of my life have taken place in early May — Margaret Thatcher’s first election victory on May 3, 1979 (when I was too young to even vote), and the 2010 election, on May 6, 2010, which brought a Tory-led coalition government, led by David Cameron, to power.
There were other dreadful nights, on or around May — the Tory victories on June 9, 1983, June 11, 1987 and April 9, 1992 — and after the anti-Tory euphoria of Tony Blair’s victory wore off, following New Labour’s landslide victory on May 1, 1997, the reality of a New Labour Britain was of course a huge disappointment, as the party embarked on its own neo-liberal trajectory, and the country became host to a housing price casino that was a poor substitute for an actual functioning economy — and, in 2003, also became the home of an illegal warmonger.
As a result, the rest of New Labour’s victories — on June 7, 2001 and May 5, 2005 — were also disappointing, as the party failed to remember what it was supposed to be, and continued, instead, as a general betrayer of its founding values. On those occasions, however, the disappointment in a Labour victory was, pragmatically, offset by slim gratitude that at least the Tories weren’t back in.
All that changed in 2010. With the Labour government discredited, in the eyes of a majority of the voting public, as a result of the global financial crash of 2008 (even though the Tories were also 100% in bed with the bankers, and most people seemed to have been delighted with New Labour’s housing bubble), the Tories emerged as the largest party, although David Cameron’s efforts to sell himself as a charismatic leader fell short of his expectations, and an unholy alliance with the LIberal Democrats was then required for the Tories to embark on their horrible assault on the British state, and on everyone not fortunate enough to be rich, that they have imposed ever since, and that they will now be hoping to inflict on us for the next five years.
That is a truly chilling thought, as Cameron and Osborne’s Tories have, over the last five years, proven that they have only three reasons for existing: to enable the rich to get richer, to privatise almost everything that has not yet been privatised, and, while undertaking this butchery — which involves a monstrous belief in the need to destroy almost all state provision of services, including the NHS, the single greatest institution in the UK — to make life as miserable as possible for all vulnerable members of society; in particular, the working poor, the unemployed, and the disabled. See my extensive archive of articles, under the heading, “Battle for Britain: Fighting the Coalition Government’s Vile Ideology.”
Among the Tories’ many disgraceful policies — notwithstanding the fact that some were inherited from Labour, but have been more aggressively pursued — are reviews for the disabled, designed to find people with severe mental and physical health problems fit for work when they are not (and there are no jobs anyway), and to subsequently cut their benefits, the enthusiastic promotion of zero hours contracts, and the implementation of a range of workfare schemes, designed to make the unemployed work for hourly rates that are way below the minimum wage.
Another horrible innovation has been the benefit cap, which has imposed restrictions on the amount of housing benefit that can be claimed by those without work, portraying them as scroungers when most of the money goes to private landlords and not, of course, the claimants themselves.
Also noteworthy is the bedroom tax, whereby a cabinet of millionaires forced unemployed people to move out of their homes if they dared to have what was regarded as a spare room, even though it is fundamentally offensive to decide that poorer people are not entitled to regard their homes as homes, or to have the luxury of any spare space whatsoever, and even though there are few smaller properties for them to move to, and it has ended up costing more than before while making life miserable for vast numbers of people.
The Tories also attacked students, tripling tuition fees, and undermined state schools, and they have presided over an even more bloated and ridiculous house price casino than existed under New Labour. London is now the global capital for super-rich dictators and criminals, who drive up house prices while contributing almost nothing to the wider economy, as they are protected from fair taxation through the vile and unjustifiable allowances for “non-doms” to be parasites in the UK, by pretending to live somewhere else. All the while, the gap between the rich and the poor has continued to grow to monstrous levels.
The Lib Dems, it turned out, committed political suicide through their coalition with the Tories, losing 49 of their 57 seats on Thursday, but, depressingly — almost incomprehensibly — the Tories were not only unpunished at the ballot box; they actually secured enough seats to form a government on their own.
The other winners in the election were the Scottish National Party (SNP), who conquered Scotland, securing 56 of the 59 Scottish seats, up from just six in 2010. This was a disaster for Scottish Labour, of course, and while it was punishment for their disdainful approach to those seeking independence, I personally think that what drove the landslide even more was Scottish voters’ perceived need to set themselves up in the clearest manner possible, not just as a declaration of their own identity, as a continuation of the national conversation that arose through last year’s referendum on independence, but also, explicitly, in opposition to the power base in Westminster — the Tories. This could only be achieved by taking over from Labour, because the Tories, of course, have been in the electoral wilderness in Scotland since the Thatcher days.
The losers in this election were not primarily the Labour Party, whose share of the vote, and number of seats gained, actually increased slightly from 2010 — although it would be foolish not to acknowledge that Labour’s pledges, including supporting the NHS, scrapping the bedroom tax, and ending “non-dom” status, failed to convince numerous voters who, by voting Tory, actually voted to make life much more difficult for themselves.
The biggest losers, primarily, were other parties — and, as I noted in an article just before the election, entitled, “Time for Proportional Representation: Whatever the Outcome of the General Election, Our Voting System is Unfair and Unrepresentative” — the electoral process itself.
The biggest single group in the election were the 15,733,706 people who didn’t vote, far more than the 11,334,920 people who voted for the Tories. Nevertheless, the Tories secured a majority of the seats (50.9%) even though they had just 36.8% of the vote, and the support of just 24.4% of those eligible to vote. On the other extreme, UKIP got just one seat even though they secured 3,881,129 votes, meaning that it was 113 times harder for them to get a seat than it was for the Tories.
A broken and unjust system
Here’s a more detailed breakdown of why the current system is so broken and unjust:
11,334,920 people voted for the Tories, which was 36.8% of the voter turnout (30,691,680), but just 24.4% of the total number of people eligible to vote (46,425,386).
In addition, the distribution of seats per vote was also unfair. With their 36.8% of the vote, the Tories nevertheless secured 50.9% of the seats. Each of their 331 seats, therefore, required 34,244 votes.
Another party that benefitted from the uneven distribution of votes under the “first past the post” system was Labour, who received 9,344,328 votes. That was 30.4% of the voter turnout, and enabled them to secure 232 seats (35.7% of the total). Each of their seats, therefore, required 40,277 votes.
Also benefitting was the Scottish National Party, whose 1,454,436 votes represented 4.7% of the voter turnout. In terms of seats, however, the SNP’s 56 seats constituted 8.6% of the total. Each of their seats required just 25,972 votes.
The losers in this unequal carve-up of the British people and their intentions were, primarily, the Liberal Democrats, UKIP and the Green Party.
The Liberal Democrats, although electorally almost wiped out, still managed to secure 2,415,888 votes (7.9% of the total), which translated into 8 seats (just 1.2% of the total). Each of their seats, therefore, required 301,986 votes.
UKIP secured 3,881,129 votes (12.6% of the total), but this translated into just one seat (0.2% of the total), and the Green Party secured 1,154,562 votes (3.8% of the total), which also translated into just one seat (0.2% of the total).
Under proportional representation, the 30,691,680 votes cast, divided by 650 seats, would have translated into 47,218 votes per MP, with the following breakdown (which would be fair, even though I despise UKIP):
Con: 240 instead of 331
Lab: 198 instead of 232
Lib Dem: 51 instead of 8
SNP: 31 instead of 56
UKIP: 82 instead of 1
Green: 24 instead of 1
If you find this situation unacceptable, please sign the Avaaz petition, “Democratic Deficit,” which calls on MPs to undertake an urgent review of the electoral system.
As they state:
The first past the post system is designed for two-party politics. But that’s just not on our landscape any more. Over 1 million voted for the Green Party and got just one seat and whether you agree with them or not, UKIP also suffered from this yawning democratic deficit.
With 1 in 3 people not bothering to vote, we need to reconnect politics back to the people. Let’s end the era of ‘wasted votes’ and create a system where every voice in Britain matters. Let’s call on all our MPs to fight for an electoral review as soon as parliament reconvenes.
Still unconvinced? How about this then for my parting shot?
Can it be fair that, with 11,334,920 votes, the Tories are running the country, with 331 seats, while the Liberal Democrats, the Greens and UKIP, with 7,451,479 votes, got just ten seats between them?
The answer has to be no.
Andy Worthington is a freelance investigative journalist, activist, author, photographer, film-maker and singer-songwriter (the lead singer and main songwriter for the London-based band The Four Fathers). He is the co-founder of the “Close Guantánamo” campaign, the co-director of “We Stand With Shaker,” calling for the immediate release from Guantánamo of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison, and the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by the University of Chicago Press in the US, and available from Amazon, including a Kindle edition — click on the following for the US and the UK) and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. He is also the co-director (with Polly Nash) of the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (available on DVD here — or here for the US).
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