This weeks election means that for many of us our political landscape has changed and it is useful to reflect in a bit of detail what impact the election has or should have had. For several decades I have worked for companies and organisations that are firmly rooted in the whole of Sussex, seeing no barriers between East and West, or even the city of Brighton & Hove. The needs of a city like Chichester are as relevant to this as the much more obvious social needs of a town like Hastings or the Northern and relatively prosperous town of Crawley. As the Government progresses its agenda for devolution to large organisational hubs such as Manchester, Liverpool and even Plymouth in the South West, I find it hard to avoid the obvious link to the ancient area of Sussex as being at least as relevant for devolutionary purposes. This is despite the hard work being carried out by neighbouring local authorities such as links between East Sussex and Surrey or East Sussex and Kent.
On Thursday a total of 1.2M people were entitled to vote in the election across Sussex. As a result of our combined actions, the area now has 14 Conservative MPs, 1 Green and 1 Labour MP. As far as Labour is concerned this is a good result as they previously had no Sussex MPs and whilst the Greens fought every seat, the outcome is as good as they would have wished for. Clearly the Conservatives will be delighted that they have increased their number of MPs by one. However if one was looking at the votes in a more holistic way it would raise several issues about the outcome and indeed the practical implications of our electoral arrangements.
By totalling the potential votes across the area and dividing by the number of the current seats, the number of voters per constituency is 76,000 if the constituencies were evenly spread. On this basis the Green Party received enough votes to have elected 1 MP. However Labour would have returned 2 MPs not the one that FPTP delivered and the Lib Dems would have elected 1 MP. UKIP would have elected 2 MPs. This leaves 10 seats remaining. However 5 of these would have elected no MP as these voters either spoilt their ballot paper or simply did not vote. The remaining 5 seats would be Conservative seats. Whilst no party is advocating such a crude form of PR, the reality is that Thursdays outcome is a poor reflection of how people voted (or stayed away).
This blog is not just a call for a better electoral system, but also a reflection that 115,000 UKIP voters don’t have an MP that they can speak to who they voted for and that twice as many Green voters in Sussex don’t have an MP that shares their values as do have one. This is a tragedy because whilst the Conservative Party promised to be environmentally responsible prior to the last election, their track record was woeful. If a Green elector wants to write to an MP that shares their values, 2/3 of them will be prevented from doing so under the current rules which prevent a neighbouring MP from engaging with electors outside of their locality. The same is true for the 164,000 Labour voters across Sussex, only 22,000 of them are represented by Peter Kyle in Hove, 127,000 are represented by a Conservative MP and 15,000 by Caroline Lucas in Brighton Pavilion which at its Eastern extremities cannot be more than 10 miles from the Western extremities of Peters Portslade area.
Finally we need to do something to ensure that more of the 372,000 people who stayed away, are encouraged to engage with the electoral process. If they were offered a ‘None of the Above’ option how many might have taken part? Surely that is something we need to consider. It is clear from listening to Francis Maude on last nights Question Time that the new Government will not reform our electoral process (although they will now be free to implement their own boundary changes that were blocked by the Lib Dems in the last Government). The final bit of crude Maths shows that 760,000 Sussex voters (63% of those eligible to do so) voted for a candidate who was not elected. Add to this the 30% of people who did not take part and we have a system that has met the needs of only 7% of the population and left 63%-93% fully dissatisfied. If the Paretto principle is an 80:20 rule, what can we call the 93:7 rule? In any other setting or arrangement this would shock the people who control the process into action, to change the system. In the case of our electoral system, as Francis Maude made clear, there will be no change!