Conventional Wisdom is that in the UKs much publicized election, that all three parties – Labour, Conservative (Tory) and the Liberal Democrats – lost. Labour say its majority collapse. The Tories failed to win a majority. And, the Lib Dems made actually lost ground after a huge publicity bonanza surrounding their leader Nick Clegg.
Perhaps, I am reading the wrong tea leaves, but I just don’t see it that way. The Lib Dems won and the Tories lost. The votes might say otherwise but the balance of power is what matters, and the balance has shifted towards Nick Clegg and perhaps away from the Tories as we know them, forever.
Britain, like the US, has a first-past-the-post, or winner take all voting system. Famously whoever gets the most votes in a given US state gets 100% of the electoral votes from that state. Similarly, in the British parliament, the whoever gets the most votes in a district (known as a constituency) wins that constituency.
Now suppose that the Tories got 40% of the vote in every constituency, Labour got 35% and the Lib Dems got 25%. In that case, the Tories would control every single seat in Parliament and no one else would have any say whatsoever. That is despite the fact that 60% of the voters did not vote Tory.
Now, because of regional differences the result will never be uniform. However, it is common that the party which wins the majority in parliament does not win a majority of the votes. Tony Blair swept to power with a huge majority in 1997 while winning only 35% of the vote nationally.
Now here is the rub. The Lib-Dems being the smallest party are consistently screwed over by the first-past-the-post system. So their number one objective is to change the electoral law to something more akin to proportional representation. Under proportional representation a party that receives 25% of the vote will receive 25% of the seats in parliament.
However, because neither Labour nor the Tories have a majority right now, each one needs the cooperation of the Lib-Dems to gain control of parliament. The Lib-Dems will naturally demand electoral reform as the price of cooperation. Win the for the Lib – Dems.
How do the Tories lose? Well, it turns out that in terms of platform the Lib-Dems are a lot closer to Labour than they are to the Tories. Because the three parties are relatively close in terms of the percentage of the vote they attract, the two parties which join forces will likely have the majority of the seats in parliament under a proportional system. That is much more likely to be the Lib Dems and Labour than either one and the Tories. Thus Tories loose.