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2010-05-07 - 20:58:00 - by AlisonW - Topic: UK-Politics: Conservative | Elections | Labour | LibDem | Westminster |

The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is a fairly well-defined entity. A really big island, lots of smaller ones, bits of another big one, and spots in between. The UK Parliament – located at Westminster – serves as the representative body of this entity. 650 Members of Parliament form that body, drawn from all points of 'GB&NI'.

But how are they drawn from that area? As we saw on May 6th it is a matter of random lines drawn across the countryside, dividing populations into zones of allegedly similar sizes with each of those zones returning an MP based on which candidate receives the highest number of votes, no matter whether more people voted against them rather than for them.

These lines, in some areas, sometimes delineate cities or towns in a meaningful way, but even then they can have the effect of disenfranchising the majority of a population. One of those things once called gerrymandering. Take Oxford, for example. In Oxford East the Conservative candidate – Nicola Blackwood – received 23,906 votes, and won the seat from LibDem Evan Harris who gained 23,730 votes – 176 fewer. Richard Stevens for Labour only took 10.6% at 5,999 votes. Next door in Oxford West the results were in the reverse order: Labour's Andrew Smith won with 42.5% of the vote – 21,938 – to Steve Goddard's 17,357 LibDem votes and the Tory Edward Argar brought up the rear with 9,727 votes.

So that random line splitting Oxford in two resulted in one Conservative MP and one Labour MP being elected to the 2010 Parliament. But who drew that line? You take the total vote across both constituencies and whilst Labour support reaches 27,937 and Conservative 33,633 the Liberal Democrat total leads the way with 41,087 – substantially higher than either of the other two main parties, yet they didn't achieve any representation in Parliament.

In York, there are also two seats, York Inner and York Outer, and Outer elected a Tory MP and Inner went to Labour, yet the totals for the city were Conservative: 35,034 LibDems: 30,918 and Labour lowest on 27,681. Logic, therefore, would suggest that the City of York should have elected one Conservative and one Liberal Democrat, yet it didn't.

How can these results ever be right?

There are hundreds of similar examples across the nation; very few MPs received over 50% of the vote in their constituency giving them a real personal mandate. And this is before we account for the thousands of people in Birmingham, Sheffield, Maidstone, Manchester, Hackney, Islington and elsewhere who were unable to even vote despite queueing for hours, often in the rain, to exercise their democratic right to be counted. Whilst one would hope there was no intent to disenfranchise the electorate like this, it seems that whilst the law says a polling station must close at 10pm there is nothing that says how many booths must be in that station, or how fast the staff must work through the queue.

I've had a permanent postal vote now for some fifteen years and, whilst it was noted yesterday that votes had 'gone astray' in York and one doesn't know that the ballot paper I sent via the Royal Mail definitively arrived at the count, I trust that it did. And all elections – even where you stick the paper with the 'X' on in the box yourself – is about trust. People place their trust in the system that their vote will be counted. They place their trust that the result will be meaningful. They place their trust in the representative nature of our electoral system; that we don't operate a delegated authority where an MP only represents those who voted for them, but expect that the constituency MP will represent everyone in that area.

Are we right to do so?

When I first moved to Highgate I joined the local Labour Party, indeed I became branch secretary and later Womens' Officer for the Constituency. Before that I'd had jobs where to be seen as politically active was very much frowned upon. When the leadership election took place which returned Tony Blair I left. Then, about ten years ago I joined the Liberal Democrats and was very active with them, supporting friends in elections, trying to get selected for a seat myself, and serving as the Chair of the Party's GBLT group. At the moment though I'm not a member of any political party. But I am still a member of Make Votes Count and a very firm believer in the principle of proportional representation; that the MPs we elect should be from political parties in a broadly similar ratio to the number of people who voted for those parties.

Yesterday, this country elected representatives from a range of political persuasions to the House of Commons. The numbers of each party were, very clearly, not fair or a reasonable response to the voters' intentions, and there is no clear path to Government. I joked on Twitter that – given the earlier statement by the Governor of the Bank of England that whichever party formed the next government the nation's response to the massive cuts they would have to introduce would keep them out of power for a generation – they'd all succeeded in not getting elected.

Thing is, any coalition Tory-LibDem, Labour-LibDem, even Labour-Tory, would not reflect the intention of the electorate. They voted and, for better or for worse, we have a 'hung' Parliament. It isn't for those elected to decide amongst themselves who should take power, it is for us – the Nation's people – to expect them to all work together, to get this country back on its feet in the face of financial adversity. The newly arrived Parliament needs to set aside their differences and work – informally – together.

It is time for a national Government, not a fix-up.

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