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May-time Voting Season

  • May 25th, 2011
  • Posted by EUEditor

clegg-nick.jpegAnalysis of this month’s voting in Britain spells out the obvious message: bad news for “Lib-Dems”; trends elsewhere, especially Spain at this time, tell that being in government at all, is a vulnerable place to be. 


The strong “no” vote on electoral reform at this month’s referendum in the United Kingdom (5.5.11), broke the long-held hope of the Liberal-Democrats of getting onto an even footing with the two major parties.

The result was 13 013 123 votes (67.9%) against, 6 152 607 (32.1%) for, telling the cenrtist party, and juniour partner in the governing coalition, that its ideas on “alternative voting” were not liked, or maybe not understood — and maybe that for itself, it wasn’t liked either.


The alternative voting system is easy enough to understand if you use it every time, as in Australia. See EUAustralia Online, “UK Vote: Australians bear a gift”, 5.5.10.

When voters’ first preference (#1) votes are tallied; if no candidate has more than 50%, the Electoral Commission eliminates the bottom candidate, and distributes their #2 vote to the other candidates. The eliminations may continue until some candidate gets over the 50% mark.

It is meant to add a degree of proportionality into the system, and has close-to consensual support in the Australian systems.

The Liberal-Democrats and their predecessor parties long wanted something the same, stuck as they were for decades at around 20% of the primary vote, but getting only 10% of seats, because of first-past-the-post voting.

Often running second, if only their candidates could get a hand-on of votes from the third place-getters, they would probably win many new seats and get back into the full game.

Going into coalition with the Tories after the elections a year ago was seen as the great chance, the referendum put up as part of the price of signing on.


Problems there had to be, explaining a system that might seem too complicated to voters keen enough to be consulted about their government, but not alert to any details about the system.

The Tories were campaigning red hot against it, Labour just luke-warm for it.

On top of that, the Liberal Democratic party, under the Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg (picture), was looking very unpopular after a year in office. Voters would not be doing any favours for a crowd they did not like.

Mr Clegg had signed on to austerity-in-government policies reasonably popular with the constituency of his Conservative allies, but not popular with many of his own supporters in the middle-of-the-road.

Was this just a “second Conservative Party”? See EUAustralia Online, “UN Vote: Sorted”, 12.5.10.

Certainly Liberal Democrats fared very badly in state elections held in Scotland and Wales (the devolved Parliaments) on the same day as the referendum, and in English local elections that day.

National opinion polls currently have them at about 10%, half of what they had a year ago.

Labour has been the main beneficiary, though the Conservative Party has held onto its public well enough to be trailing Labour, usually by only some 5%.


Recession, slow recovery, a crisis over public debt have been putting all the European governments under pressure in some way.

The ruling Socialist party in Spain has been the latest incumbent to feel the pain from electors feeling the economic pain.

Young people, experiencing close to 40% unemployment, could hardly have been expected to grin and bear such a hard introduction to adult life; turning out in droves this month to protest against tight-spending policies, as regional and local elections approached.

When the day came (last weekend, 22.5.11) the conservative Popular Party, in opposition, received landslide support, a swing of over 10%, giving it a national average of 38% to the Socialist party’s 28%.

Even the left-wing stronghold Barcelona changed hands; socialists were left holding power in only five of the country’s 50 provincial capitals.


BBC News, London, “Vote – 2011”, 10.5.11., 10.5.11, (25.5.11).

The Electoral Commission, London, Elections., (25.5.11).

YouGov (Anthony Wells), London, “UK Polling Report”, 25.5.11., (25.5.1).

Wikipedia, SF, “Spanish local and regional elections, 2011”, 24.5.11.,_2011, (25.5.11).

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