16,000 voters cost Tories clear win

May 9, 2010 12:00 am

, LONDON, May 9 – Britain\’s Conservatives would have won a parliamentary majority had just 16,000 people in 19 constituencies voted differently, experts said Sunday as they analysed the election results.

Thursday\’s vote delivered the first hung parliament in Britain since 1974, putting the first-past-the-post system in the spotlight.

Despite a strong performance at the polls, getting more than two million more votes than Labour with 10.7 million votes, the Tories came out 20 seats short of getting an overall majority in the House of Commons.

Conservative leader David Cameron "came so near and yet so far," said experts Colin Rallings and Michael Thrasher, the directors of the election centre at Plymouth University in southwest England.

"Just 16,000 extra votes for the Tories, distributed in the 19 constituencies in which the party came closest to winning, would have spared us a weekend of negotiation and speculation," they wrote in The Sunday Times newspaper.

"The result shows that it is Labour which continues to benefit mostly from a \’biased\’ electoral system, winning inner-city seats with relatively small electorates and constituencies with lower turnouts," they said.

Had the positions of the parties been reversed (36 percent to 29 percent), Labour would have been returned with a majority of 64 seats, they found.

"In the constituencies where Labour captured between 30 percent and 40 percent of the total vote, it won the seat in 39 percent of cases. By contrast, the Tories won in just 26 percent of constituencies where their vote was in this range", they wrote.

"The big losers continue to be the Liberal Democrats, who accumulate \’wasted votes\’ across the country." They won only one in eight seats in that range.

They said the 3.1 percent of voters who plumped for the United Kingdom Independence Party, an anti-European Union group, could have cost the Conservatives a clear victory.

"If just half of those who voted UKIP in the 19 seats that the Tories most narrowly missed had voted for Cameron instead, he would have had a majority of two," the experts said.

Their analysis showed that in a new election — which may be necessary to resolve the deadlock — a swing of 1.8 percent from Labour would give the Conservatives a majority, while a 2.5 percent swing would put them 20 seats ahead.

Meanwhile commentators drew note to the disparity of the main parties\’ performance in different parts of the kingdom.

"Scotland and Wales now account for more than a quarter of all Labour MPs: a fact that is bound to raise more questions about the legitimacy of their role in voting on issues that affect England but not their constituents," Rallings and Thrasher wrote.

Peter Kellner, the president of pollsters YouGov, said of the Conservatives: "Britain\’s political geography remains tilted against the party.

"There will be 298 Tory and 235 non-Tory MPs in England; but the rest of the UK returned just nine Tories compared with 108 non-Tory MPs."

He added: "First past the post give the Tories their best chance of power. Any other system would deliver a combination of Labour and Lib Dem MPs under almost any likely scenario."


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