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Geography and the British electoral system

Representational democracy is at the heart of the UK’s political constitution, and the electoral system is central to achieving it. But is the first-past-the-post system used to elect the UK parliament truly representative? To answer that question requires an understanding of several factors: debates over the nature of representation; the evolution of the current electoral system; how first-past-the-post distorts electoral politics; and how else elections might be conducted. Running through all these debates are issues over the representation not only of people but also of places. The book examines all of these issues and focuses on the effect of geography on the operation of the electoral system.

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Ron Johnston, Charles Pattie, and David Rossiter

various parts of the country. There are valid debates to be had as to the degree of proportionality which might be desirable, and we do not see it as our role to point in any one direction. It is our hope, however, that by documenting the evolution of our electoral system and explaining how it translates votes to seats, the reader will be better placed to judge exactly where that balance should lie. 182 JOHNSTON 9781526139894 PRINT.indd 182 09/12/2020 10:32

in Representative democracy?
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A limited Conservative renewal?
Gillian Peele and John Francis

would become electorally weaker and condemned to perpetual opposition. Conservative electoral advances in 2010 and 2015 were impressive but insufficient to carry it to overwhelming victory. In 2015 the eventual majority was heavily dependent on the implosion of the Liberal Democrats and the Labour rout in Scotland. The electoral system, which in many ways was biased against the Conservatives, served to block the UKIP advance from votes to seats. In the immediate aftermath of the 2015 election the Conservative Party position looked promising. Labour’s election of the

in David Cameron and Conservative renewal
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Louise Thompson

. 19 At times there is an incredible degree of frustration about this from the smaller parties, who believe that the working arrangements of the Commons only really represent a government and an opposition. 20 The Liberal Democrats felt a renewed sense of anger about this following the 2017 General Election when their poor conversion of votes to seats led to their eviction from the third-party benches by the SNP. For the first time since 1997 they had lost parliamentary rights

in The end of the small party?
Ron Johnston, Charles Pattie, and David Rossiter

reflects the rank order of the parties’ votes in the country as a whole. The party with the largest vote share usually comes out of the election with the largest number of MPs and the second most popular party usually has the second largest number of MPs (though this does not always happen­– ­in both the 1951 and February 1974 UK general elections, for instance, the two most popular parties came very close to each other on vote share, but the less popular of the two gained more MPs than the more popular). But the exact match of votes to seats under FPTP rules can be very

in Representative democracy?