21 November 2012

A guide to a UK General Election for plebs

Who am I appealing to here? If you don't like politics, then why are you here? If you do like politics, then surely you don't need to read this.

I know! The charts! I have loads of charts coming your way - so stay tuned.

Now, in the UK, there is not one election. There are 650 elections, all on the same day. The leader of the party who wins a majority in these "constituencies" is the Prime Minister. A majority is easily calculated by this formula, which will vary depending on the number of constituencies (they keep changing where one ends and another one starts):

x = constituencies

MAJ = ½x + 1.

Sub in the constituency numbers for the 2010 General Election:

MAJ = ½(650) + 1
= 325 + 1
= 326

So 326 will win. In one constituency, it's a simple "whoever-gets-the-most-votes-wins" idea. British people call this "First Past the Post". So if candidate A gets 37,909 votes, and candidate B gets 37,908 votes, then candidate A wins. Since every constituency has a different population, the party with the most votes nationally may not win. A party could win a constituency with 10,000 votes yet lose another with 20,000.

Now, on to the parties.

There are 461 political parties in the United Kingdom, but there are four main ones.

Conservative (colloquially referred to as "The Tories"),
Labour (colloquially referred to as "Labour"),
Liberal Democrat (colloquially referred to as "The Lib Dems"),
United Kingdom Independence Party (colloquially referred to as "UKIP").

Remember, the magic number is 326.

Let us get on to some examples.

Let us start from the most recent first: 2010.

Seats are in the outer ring, the votes are in the inner ring.


Wow. No wonder the Lib Dems have a case for reform. Here, the Conservatives are up 97 seats from their 2005 result (203) and up 3.7% in the votes, Labour are down 91 from their 2005 result (349) and down 6.2%, the Liberal Democrats down 5 seats from their 2005 result (62) but up 1.0% in the votes, and UKIP stay on 0 but are up 0.9% in the votes.

So the number of voters to elect one MP is as follows:

The Conservatives have 34,979 votes per MP (on average).
Labour have 33,359 votes per MP.
The Liberal Democrats have 119,934 votes per MP.

During elections, many may talk about a swing. Here's another mathematical formula for you to calculate the swing.

x = rise of votes in one party
y = fall of votes in another party

SWING = ½(x + y)

Sub in the 2010 result:

SWING = ½(3.7 + 6.2)
= 4.95% swing from Labour to the Conservatives

That means that in every 1,000 voters, 495 of them who voted Labour last time voted for the Conservatives this time.

Time for another example?

2005, then. Seats on the outer ring, votes on the inner ring.


= 3.1% swing from Labour to the Conservatives.

Any questions, put in the comment box.

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