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UK Parties and VotingĀ  – Electoral Bias

Despite the work of the Electoral Commission overall biases appear in the system affecting the two main parties.

In 1951, Labour gained more votes overall but the Conservatives won a majority of seats because of their success in slightly smaller rural constituencies which they won with fairly small majorities. Since 1992 a bias has developed in favour of the Labour Party but this has been shaken by the rise of the Scottish Nationalist Party taking seats in Scottish strong-holds.

  • In 1970 the Conservatives were only 3% ahead of Labour but won 42 more seats
  • In 2010 the Conservatives were 7% ahead but won only 48 seats more than Labour
  • In 2005 Labour was only 3% ahead of the Conservatives but won 157 more seats

Although there is an overall bias, it is partly explained by the fact the turnout is lower in Labour urban seats and higher in Conservative outer suburban seats and the latter have larger electorates because it takes the Boundary Commission a few years to catch up with population changes.

In addition, there are a number of Liberal Democrat/Conservative marginals where Labour voters switch to the Liberal Democrats to try to defeat the Conservatives (Rob Johnston et al From Votes into Seats: The Operation of the British Electoral System since 1945, 2001 gives a full explanation).

To win the general election, though, one of the two main parties party has to be successful in the key marginals where they are both competitive.

Reduce the number of Member’s of Parliament?

This bias, and the hostility towards MPs in the wake of the expenses scandal, led the Conservatives to introduce legislation to reduce the number of MPs to 600 and require the Electoral Commission to make the constituencies of equal size.

This would still not have entirely removed the bias and the draft Electoral Commission draft boundaries produced constituencies which brought together areas with little connection and met with concern even from some Conservative and Liberal Democrat MPs.

During the Coalition Government 2010-15, The Liberal Democrats refused to support the change in retaliation for the failure of many Conservative MPs to support House of Lords reform and the legislation was withdrawn.