The proportion of the electorate choosing the governing party at election time has fallen from just under a third in 1997 to only just over one fifth (21.6 per cent) in 2005. It is a figure that the supporters of a fairer voting system, such as David Lipsey, will be waving about over the next few months, alleging that the government does not deserve its still handsome majority in the Commons and enjoys only a “weak mandate.” Both those things may be true—and the election has properly given fresh impetus to the voting system debate—yet it is hard not to agree that the rickety old British voting system allowed the “wisdom of crowds” to work and came up with a result which was more or less what the country wanted.
This was an election that sent out complex and even conflicting messages, with small parties polling well and all three of the big parties left disappointed, yet the big picture is clear enough—Britain remains a solidly centre-left country, with 57 per cent of the vote going to Labour and the Liberal Democrats combined. And it seems that affluent, liberal baby boomers, like you Prospect readers, retain a disproportionate influence over the country’s affairs. It was a radical shift in the social attitudes of the affluent that helped to give Labour its landslide in 1997 and has kept the Tory vote to around one third ever since, the party still failing what Tim Hames (in our April issue) called “the dinner party test” on cultural issues. It was also the liberal baby boomers who gave Tony Blair a slap in 2005 by switching to the Liberal Democrats—more than half of the 47 seats that Labour lost can be attributed to Charles Kennedy’s party, which won 12 directly from Labour and was instrumental in about 15 Tory gains from Labour.
If that pattern is repeated on a larger scale in 2009, the centre-left vote could split, allowing the Tories to sneak through the middle to win on little more than Labour’s 35 per cent share of the vote (assuming the boundary commission can be persuaded to undo some of the pro-Labour structural bias). Such arguments will give heart to the “one more heave” faction in the Tory party, and to Labour backers of a fairer voting system. In the unlikely event of this government opting to reform the voting system, it should…