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Thursday, 14 May 2015

Election Special...

I can't wait for the end of the month. I was going to include a write up about the election in the first of my monthly posts, but it got a bit lengthy and it's too far away in time! So here's my write up of the election, as it happened. I did try to keep any political bias out of my write up, so apologies if I haven't managed it.


On Thursday 7th May, the electorate of the entire United Kingdom made their way to Polling Stations in order to cast their vote, for their local MP. Most MPs are affiliated to political parties and the party with the most seats at the end of the count, wins, with that party leader being made Prime Minister. This is known as the first past the post system. Simple, isn’t it?

Well, sort of. You see, there are 650 seats in the house of commons (not literally, it’s mainly long benches and if it’s full, most MPs seem to have to stand up, but perhaps it’s down to fire and safety regulations, and that’s the capacity? Or maybe just the number of constituencies there are MPs to represent in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland? Who knows?).

In order to have an actual majority, one party needs 326 seats, this means that if the whole party votes the same way on any law they want to change, there won’t be enough MPs in opposition, even combined, to oppose it.

It’s still not quite as simple as that, you see some MPs refuse to attend parliament, most notably the Sinn Fein MPs from Northern Ireland (was 5 in the last term and 4 this time round) and if you’re not there, you can’t vote.

Then there’s the speaker, who is an MP, but doesn’t vote. So in reality, a majority could be formed from as few MPs as 323.

It still isn’t that simple though. You see, not all MPs in a party will vote the way the party whips advise them to, and so even with a slim majority, the party in government may not actually get their chosen changes through, especially if the back benchers don’t tow the party line.

There are strict restrictions on what the media can report while the polls are open, and so there is very little available, including the results of exit polls, until the polls close at 10pm.

The exit poll, this year certainly, I don’t know about previous or future elections, was paid for by a combined force of the BBC, ITN and Sky, who each have an expert waiting to review the poll data. The two companies used to collect the data between them, sent 140 researchers to 140 constituencies and the researchers asked 1 in 10 people leaving the polling station, how they had voted. As the vote is a secret ballot, voters are under no obligation to divulge this information. However, many people clearly do, and the information is sent back to the experts to review and do whatever it is expert statisticians do with data, to produce the exit poll.

This year, going into the election, we had a coalition government, as no single party had an outright majority, but the Conservative Party and the Liberal Democrats between them, did. The parliamentary seats were allocated as follows;

Coalition Government
Conservative:
302
358
Liberal Democrats:
56
Total Oppositiion
Labour:
256
292
Democratic Unionists:
8
Scottish National:
6
Independent (no party):
5
Sinn Fein:
5
Plaid Cymru:
3
Social Democratic & Labour Party:
3
UK Independence Party:
2
Alliance:
1
Green:
1
Respect:
1
Speaker:
1

The exit poll at 10pm on Thursday showed a best guess of:

Conservative:
316
Labour:
239
SNP:
54
Liberal Democrats:
10
Plaid Cymru:
4
Green:
2
UKIP:
2
Other (Incl. all N.I.):
10

With the predicted result being a hung parliament, again.  The Conservatives would be the biggest party, and would be looking to form a coalition with some of the smaller parties. The prediction of a hung parliament was not a surprise, but all of the polls before polling day had estimated that Labour would have the largest party, and this data from the exit poll was something of a surprise on the night.

Astoundingly, the first results were in, within 50 minutes. The volunteers counting in the Houghton and Sunderland South, count quickly. Returning a Labour hold (Labour MP voted in where a Labour MP had been before). The constituency has been the first result for the past 6 general elections (since 1992), and are clearly proud of this feat, and work hard to make it as easy as possible for their volunteers to maintain this.

Sunderland Central was second (another Labour hold), and the third constituency to return a result was Washington and Sunderland West, the whole area seems to pride themselves on getting their results back first. As the night wore on, the televised coverage continued, and the results came thick and fast. Some though, would wait until morning.

Thanet South was a constituency that everyone was waiting to hear from, as the leader of UKIP, Nigel Farage, was standing and he was (in polls from before the election) anticipated to win. He did not, although that result didn’t come in until 10.30 on Friday morning, and the Conservatives held the seat.

The last result of the general election to be declared, was from St Ives. St Ives is historically last as it includes the ballot boxes from the Scilly Isles, which this year, were guarded in a police cell on the islands overnight, and sent to the mainland to be counted the following morning. (Colin from the Isles of Scilly Police posted about it on social media.)
Once all of the results were in, the results were as follows:

Conservative:
330
Labour:
232
Scottish National:
56
Democratic Unionists:
8
Liberal Democrats:
8
Sinn Fein:
4
Plaid Cymru:
3
Social Democratic & Labour Party:
3
Ulster Unionists:
2
Green:
1
Independent (no party):
1
UK Independence Party
1
Speaker:
1

Giving the Conservative party an outright, if slim, majority on their own. David Cameron (leader of the Conservative Party) duly made his way to Buckingham Palace to formally request permission from the Queen to form a government, whilst Nick Clegg, Nigel Farage and then Ed Miliband stood down as leaders of the Liberal Democrats, UKIP and the Labour Party respectively. Although, Nigel Farage was later ‘persuaded’ to remain as leader of UKIP and so he did.

This represents a massive change to the government, as previously the Conservatives, Labour and the Liberal Democrats have been the three biggest parties in British politics, and have certain parliamentary privileges as a result, and for the first time since 1988, when the Liberal Party merged with the SDP to form the Liberal Democrats, they are not one of the three largest parties, and the Scottish Nationalists are, after winning all but three Scottish constituencies.

In total, 46,425,386 people were registered to vote, but on the night only 66.1% (30,697,860 people) actually did. So for all the people who did not vote and said “my vote would not make a difference”, there were 15,727,526 people who could have voted, but did not. And that doesn’t take into account the estimated 7.5 million people who are eligible to vote in the United Kingdom, but did not register to do so. To put that into perspective, only 11,334,520 people voted for a Conservative MP, so the non-voters actually outnumbered the voters for the winning party.

The figures also show that the First Past the Post System is not perfect. In party politics, as an example, 1,454,436 people voted for the SNP (Scottish Nationalist Party) which resulted in that one party winning 56 seats. Whilst a total of 2,415,888 people voted for the Liberal Democrats, albeit over a much larger area, resulting in the Liberal Democrats winning only 8 seats in the House of Commons, but also, because candidates only receive their £500 deposit back if they gain 5% of the votes for that area, resulted in a total loss of £170,000 across 340 seats. Just to put that into perspective, checking on Right Move, you can actually buy a 2-bed flat… in London, for that sum of money!

Seriously though, more people are estimated to be eligible to vote, but not registered than voted for the SNP (56 seats), the Lib Dems (8 seats), the DUP (8 seats), Sinn Fein (4), Plaid Cymru (3), the SDLP (3) the Ulster Unionists (2) AND the Green Party (1) added together, and with a couple of million non-voters to spare.

Anyway, regardless on how you did or would have voted, there it is. The General Election in full. Apart from watching as much of the live coverage on BBC1 and also on Channel 4 as I was able to, I also took date from the BBC News Website (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/election/2015/results ) and the Parliament.UK website (www.Parliament.uk)… oh, and also Twitter (https://twitter.com/LibDemDeposits).

In other election news, there were also local council elections across most of the country. Voting happened in the same polling stations, and at the same time as for the General Election, but the local council elections votes were counted and declared, after the General Election results.

In one Nottinghamshire constituency though, it was discovered that two ballot boxes had been mislaid meaning that approximately 1,000 votes had not been counted, although the result had been announced! They were able to recount and the result stood, only the Labour Councillor who won had a slightly higher number of votes overall. (More details in the Nottingham Post - http://www.nottinghampost.com/Votes-missed-Broxtowe-Borough-Council-election/story-26465856-detail/story.html). 

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