United Kingdom Archive


UK election – counting day

8:27am – Polls have now closed in the UK election, and over the course of the day we will be getting results from each constituency.

I won’t be providing a constant thread of updates but will occasionally post updates through the day.

The main exit poll has predicted a result of:

  • Conservative – 316
  • Labour – 239
  • SNP – 58
  • Liberal Democrats – 10

If this poll is right, the Conservatives should be able to form a slim majority with the support of the Lib Dems, the DUP, or both. It also suggests an almost-complete SNP wipe-out in Scotland.

Stay with us as we find out whether this exit poll is correct.

10:32am – So far we’ve got ten seats reported, and none of them have changed hands. There’s lots of stories and rumours about seats that haven’t reported, and I won’t try and capture them all. It’s worth noting that most people watching the count in Thanet South expect UKIP leader Nigel Farage to lose his election bid.

1:05pm – So far we’ve had almost 200 seats called. Labour has lost 33 seats, mostly Scottish seats. The SNP has gained 35 seats. The Conservatives have gained four and lost one, while the Liberal Democrats have lost eight seats and only retained three. The Liberal Democrats have retained their seat of Orkney and Shetland, the only Scottish seat so far not to go to the SNP.

3:33pm – There’s now a lot of results in. In Scotland, the Liberal Democrats, Conservatives and Labour have each won one seat, and another is undecided. The rest have gone to the SNP, giving them nine times their previous number, and five times their record result.

At the moment, the Conservatives have gained a net 20 seats, which would put them roughly on track for the slimmest of majorities. It seems likely they will have a few more gains, and they’ll end up getting a slim majority.


UK election – the day before

Voters in the United Kingdom will be voting tomorrow (Thursday 7 May) to elect a new House of Commons – expected to be the second hung parliament in a row.

The first-past-the-post system used for the House of Commons, which in the past has been seen as providing stability and majority government, looks like it is failing to do that, but moreso makes it very hard to predict the result, since votes for minor parties (or even major parties) won’t translate neatly into seats.

The third major party in the UK, the Liberal Democrats, are expected to lose a large chunk of their seats. The party’s support dropped quickly after they formed a coalition with the Conservatives in 2010, and has never recovered. The party won’t be wiped out, and there’s evidence that their individual MPs do better than the party’s support level would suggest, and in some places they should still benefit from tactical voting.

In the past, Labour has relied on winning a dominant share of the seats in Scotland as a path to a majority in the Commons, with the Liberal Democrats winning the second-largest number.

The pro-independence Scottish National Party has won a large number of seats in the Scottish Parliament ever since it was first elected, and formed government in 2007 and won an unprecedented majority under the proportional representation system in 2011. However they have traditionally done much more poorly in UK elections. Since the defeat of the independence referendum last year, support for the SNP has shot up, and it looks likely that they will win most seats in Scotland. This change has put the prospect of a Labour majority out of reach, and will likely make the SNP the kingmakers in the new Parliament.

The smaller UK-wide parties have also been doing well. The United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) – a right-wing party opposed to immigration and the European Union, has shot up in the polls and won two by-elections triggered by Conservative MPs defecting to their party. The Green Party have been around for decades, but have been revitalised in the last few years, with a surge in membership and many former Liberal Democrats switching to them.

Both parties, however, are expected to suffer from their votes being distributed across the country, and are likely to win a very small number of seats.

In 2010, the hung parliament produced a logical outcome of Conservative and Liberal Democrat forming a neat coalition that commanded a solid majority of the Parliament. The outcome this time looks much more messy, with either side likely to fall just short of a majority, and relying on smaller parties to get legislation through. This could include the left-wing Welsh nationalists Plaid Cymru, or the various Northern Irish parties, nationalist and unionist.

The Guardian poll projection currently has Labour and the SNP four seats short of a majority, although it’s likely to be less when you exclude the Speaker and the Sinn Fein MPs who don’t take their seats. They would, however, have a majority if they included the other left-wing MPs from the Greens, Plaid Cymru and Northern Ireland’s Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP), but it would be very fragile and could fail.

I expect results to start flowing out late morning on Friday. I’ll have a post up for results discussion, but I might be limited in my availability to post results as they come in. You’re welcome to join me here.


Scottish independence: results live

Results summary – 32 out of 32 councils reporting


3:14pm – With the declaration of the result in Fife, it is now mathematically impossible for Yes to win. There are two more councils – Highlands and Moray – yet to report, but I’m going to leave the commentary here. I will update the tables later today when they are declared, and I plan to do another blog post tonight/tomorrow morning summarising the results, but that’s it for now. Read the rest of this entry »


Scottish independence takes the lead

A week from tomorrow, voters in Scotland will be voting in a historic referendum to decide if the country should become independent from the rest of the United Kingdom.

Earlier this week, the ‘Yes’ campaign took the lead in the polls for the first time in a year. Over fifty independence polls have been conducted this year, and the latest YouGov poll for the Sunday Times was the first to show a plurality of Scots supporting independence, with 47% Yes, 45% No and 6% undecided.

While this poll could well be an outlier, it follows a trend of a number of polls shifting towards Yes since the second debate between Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond, representing the Yes campaign, and former Labour Chancellor of the Exchequer Alistair Darling, chair of the Better Together campaign.

This has included two polls showing No with a 48-42 lead, and another with No on a 48-44 lead, as well as another poll that had No ahead by one point, but with 23% of voters undecided. Neither side has polled a majority since mid-August.

All of this suggests that the referendum is still up in the air, with enough undecided voters to swing the result either way. No is still the likely winner, and has been ahead most of the time, but recent trends indicate a shift of support towards Yes, which could see Yes win if the trend continues.

What makes this referendum particularly difficult to predict is the lack of precedents in Scotland. Pollsters normally rely on previous voting trends to weight their electorate, but there has never been a similar referendum in Scotland before.

In addition, the electorate is made up of a different composition to Westminster elections, with all British, Commonwealth and EU citizens resident in Scotland eligible to vote, including anyone over the age of 16. Turnout is expected to be extremely high. The Electoral Commission is predicting turnout about 80%, compared to 50% at the last Scottish parliamentary election.

Because of this volatility, we have no idea if the polling is skewed one way or the other, and don’t have any yardstick to judge what would be expected to happen over the course of the next week. Most history of referendums suggests that support for the status quo increases as you approach election day, but the history of Quebec independence referendums in the 1990s (probably the closest parallel) suggested that the independence campaign gained ground near the end. If the current polling is correct, a spike in support for Yes in the next week would be enough for victory.

The campaign has covered a broad variety of issues, but has focused on a few key points. Two debates have been held between Salmond, the leader of the SNP government in Scotland, and Darling, a Labour politician and former senior minister in the Blair and Brown governments who is leading the No campaign.

In particular, there has been a big argument around what currency would be used by an independent Scotland. The Yes campaign insists that they are entitled to use the pound, and feel confident about securing a currency union which would ensure that both the UK and Scotland would have control over the currency. While the No campaign (including the UK government) accept that Scotland is free to use any currency it wishes, they insist that in the case of independence, the control of the currency would remain solely in the hands of the UK.

During the independence campaign, all three of the main UK political parties (Conservative, Labour and Liberal Democrats) have proposed various plans to expand the powers of the Scottish Parliament in the event of a ‘no’ vote. Initially the SNP sought to include a third option on the ballot – “Devolution-Max”, which would give the Scottish Parliament powers over taxation and welfare. This was blocked by the UK government, but it seems clear now that more powers will be devolved to the Scottish Parliament, even if the referendum fails.

This week, George Osborne suggested that plans for more powers to the Scottish Parliament in the case of a ‘no’ vote will be revealed before the referendum, with the support of the three UK major parties.

If the referendum passes, it will cause huge constitutional headaches for the UK. An election for the UK Parliament is due in May 2015. Negotiations for independence are expected to take two years, so Scotland will still be electing 59 MPs at an election in 2015, whilst being aware that those MPs will cease to sit in Parliament upon independence. This could cause particular problems if Labour wins a narrow majority, as Labour would have a majority in the Parliament as it exists, but would lose approximately 40 seats upon Scottish independence, which could result in the government falling and an early election being necessitated.

There have been regular claims that the removal of Scotland from UK elections would make it impossible for Labour to form government, but this simply isn’t true. In recent decades, there have been two slim Labour majority parliaments that would have been hung parliaments without Scottish MPs, and the current Parliament would have been majority Conservative without Scotland. But Labour won three terms from 1997 to 2010 with large enough majorities that they didn’t rely on Scottish seats, and it could happen again. It’s certainly true that in a close election Labour would be worse off without Scotland, but there’s no reason to think that Scottish independence will lead to permanent Tory government.

Either way, this referendum will have significant impacts on the United Kingdom’s constitution.

If Scotland votes for independence, there will be a complicated process of negotiation as Scotland is untangled from the nations it has been united with since 1707. While the current government plans to keep the monarchy in an independent Scotland (similar to the monarchy’s role in Australia, Canada and New Zealand), who knows if nascent republican tendencies will emerge as an independent Scotland

If Scotland votes ‘no’, we will still see a Scottish Parliament with additional powers devolved from Westminster. This will worsen the current contradiction where Scottish MPs at Westminster have the right to vote on issues which do not effect Scots (a similar contradiction exists to a lesser extent for MPs from Wales and Northern Ireland), as those powers devolved to Scotland remain held at Westminster for most of England.

Shortly after the creation of devolved assemblies for Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and London in 1999-2000, the Labour government attempted to create elected assemblies for the regions of England, beginning with North-East England in 2004. The plan was dropped after voters overwhelmingly rejected a referendum to create a North-East England Assembly. The pressure for a federal United Kingdom, with powers devolved evenly across the union, will continue to grow.


London voting

Voters across the United Kingdom will be voting today in local elections, for local councillors and Mayors.

The system varies wildly – with some areas not voting, and with many parts of England covered by two different levels of local government. Scottish voters will be voting using the proportional representation, while English voters will be voting using first past the post. Some councils will be voting for a directly-elected Mayor, while others will be voting on whether their council should directly elect their Mayor in the future.

I’ll be focusing on the biggest of these elections, which is that for Mayor of London and the London Assembly.

The Greater London Authority (GLA) was created by the Blair Government in 2000, covering the entire London metropolitan region, which has a population of over 7.7 million people.

The Greater London region consists of 32 Boroughs, as well as the City of London (counted here as a borough). Each of these boroughs have their own elected council underneath the GLA.

Map of the 32 London boroughs and the City of London.

The Greater London region and the boroughs were created in 1965, and from 1965 to 1986 they were led by the Greater London Council (GLC). The GLC came into conflict with Margaret Thatcher under its leader Ken Livingstone, and in 1986 the GLC was abolished. There was no London-wide level of local government from 1986 to 2000.

The GLA was established as part of the Blair government’s program of devolution, which also saw the creation of the Scottish Parliament, the Welsh Assembly and the Northern Ireland Legislative Assembly.

The Mayor is elected by a ballot of all voters in the Greater London region, using a modified version of preference voting. Voters can only mark two preferences. After primary votes are counted, all candidates other than the top two are eliminated, and preferences are distributed.

The London Assembly is elected using the Mixed Member Proportional, similar to that used in Scotland, Wales and New Zealand. 14 members are elected to represent single-member districts, using first past the post. A further 11 members are elected on Londonwide lists as a top up. Parties must win 5% of the vote to qualify for seats.

London Assembly constituencies, showing election result from 2000 and 2008 elections.

The first Mayoral election in 2000 was won by Ken Livingstone. Livingstone had served as Labour leader of the GLC from 1981 to 1986, but he was blocked from running as the Labour candidate for Mayor by Tony Blair. He won with 57.1% of the two-candidate vote.

The first London Assembly election saw the Conservatives win a majority of districts, winning 8 seats to 6 for the Labour Party. Overall Labour and Conservatives each won 9 seats, the Liberal Democrats won 4 and the Greens won 3.

Livingstone rejoined Labour in early 2004, and was re-elected as Mayor as the Labour candidate, with 55.4% of the two-candidate vote. Labour lost two of their seats on the Assembly, while the Greens lost one, with the Lib Dems gaining one and UKIP gaining two.

Results of the 2004 Mayoral election by borough, Livingstone in red, Norris (Con) in blue.

In 2008, Livingstone was challenged by Conservative MP Boris Johnson. Johnson had a high profile as a celebrity politician, and won 53.2% of the two-candidate vote. The Conservatives increased their seats from 9 to 11, while Labour also gained ground. The two former UKIP members lost their seats, while the BNP won a single seat.

Results of the 2008 Mayoral election by borough, Livingstone in red, Johnson in blue.

After Boris Johnson’s four years as Mayor, Johnson is again facing off against Livingstone. Johnson has led in most polls. In mid-April his lead narrowed down to 51%, but has since grown out to 56%. While it isn’t certain who will win, Livingstone hasn’t run a strong campaign and Johnson has held a lead in all polls.

Another question in the polls will be about the number of seats the Conservatives will win. The Assembly may amend the Mayor’s budget by a two-thirds vote of the council, so the Conservatives need one third of the Assembly (nine seats) to block the other parties from changing the budget set by a Conservative mayor. The Conservatives won nine seats at the first two elections and eleven in 2008. If they were to fall back to eight seats they would be forced to work with other parties in the Assembly to pass their budget. It seems unlikely, but the unpopularity of the Conservatives may see Boris re-elected but see his party lose seats in the Assembly.

You can download Google Earth maps of London boroughs and London Assembly constituencies from the maps page.


Breaking down the UK Labour vote

The UK Labour Party has provided a great deal of data on how members voted in the recent election for the leadership of the party.

The Labour website has published the full preference ballot for all Members of the House of Commons and the European Parliament. They also published the primary vote results for each local branch of the party and each affiliated organisation.

After extensive analysis, you find that the result does not vary wildly across the country. On primary votes, David Milliband won the most votes in 546 constituencies, Ed Milliband in 73, Andy Burnham in 11, and Ed Balls in only two. Diane Abbott won the most votes in no constituency. In contrast, all four other candidates won in their own constituency. Using an estimate of preference flows to calculate a “Two Milliband Preferred” figure, you end up with David winning 467 constituencies and Ed winning 166 constituencies, showing a very consistent result, considering David only won 54.4% of the result nationally.

When you examine constituencies according to which party won each seat at the 2010 general election, you find some interesting trends. David Milliband won just under 55% in both Labour and Conservative constituencies, but only won 51.5% in Liberal Democrat constituencies. It’s worth noting that, despite Labour winning far less than a majority of seats in 2010, 49.9% of Labour members who voted live in Labour constituencies.

When you examine how each individual constituency MP voted, you find a very different picture. Abbott received the vote of 7 MPs, Balls 40, Burnham 23, David Milliband 105, and Ed Milliband 78. Four MPs did not vote: former leader Gordon Brown, acting leader Harriet Harman, chief whip Nick Brown, and party chairman Tony Lloyd.

In addition, thirteen Labour Members of the European Parliament also voted. 6 voted for David, 6 voted for Ed Milliband, and one voted for Andy Burnham, giving a second preference to Ed Milliband.

Amongst MPs, the two-candidate preferred vote broke down as 134 for David Milliband, 115 for Ed Milliband, and 4 that exhausted. Those four exhausted votes included the votes of leadership candidates Diane Abbott and Ed Balls, Balls’ wife Yvette Cooper, and prominent left-winger John McDonnell, who originally planned to run before dropping out and endorsing Abbott.

You can also break down the vote amongst MPs by gender. Amongst women, who make up about a third of the voting bloc, Ed Milliband performs much more strongly and Andy Burnham much worse. On a two-candidate basis, David wins 55.5% amongst men, and Ed wins 51.8% amongst women.

I have also broken down the results by the nine regions of England, as well as Scotland and Wales. In most regions, David Milliband wins a slim majority on preferences, amongst both MPs and party members. It’s worth noting that in a number of regions there are a really small number of Labour MPs. In the East of England, Labour only holds the two seats in Luton. They only hold four seats each in South East England and South West England.

There are few exceptions. Out of Burnham’s 24 MP votes, half of those are in the North West, where he won more MP votes than Ed Milliband. He also polled over 19% amongst members in that region, despite not getting over 10% in any other part of the country. Burnham holds a seat in Greater Manchester, so it’s not at all surprising.

In the West Midlands, Ed Balls won the votes of 8 MPs, to nine for David Milliband and seven for Ed Milliband. This isn’t due to any local link: Balls and his wife hold seats in West Yorkshire. Neither did he perform particularly well amongst party members in that region.

Ed Milliband won a majority of MP votes in Wales and Yorkshire. In 168 constituencies, the Labour MP cast their primary vote the same way as the plurality of their constituency, but in 81 their paths diverged.

Below the fold are a bunch of maps I have made showing this geographical distribution:

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Ed Milliband wins UK Labour leadership

In a remarkably close result, Ed Milliband has won the vote of Labour MPs, Labour Party members and union members to become the next leader of the Labour Party, in the first close-run result under the hybrid electoral system.

The UK Labour Party elects its leader using an electoral college where votes are weighted, with one third of votes going to MPs and MEPs, one third to members of Constituency Labour Parties, and one third to members of affiliated organisations (mainly being unions).

The primary results had David Milliband leading with 37% to his younger brother Ed Milliband on 34%. After three rounds of elimination the final two-party result of 50.65% for Ed Milliband.

Amongst MPs and MEPs, David won 140 to Ed’s 122 in the final round. David also won 54.4% amongst Labour Party members. Ed overcame this deficit with 59.8% of the  vote amongst union members.

The result is a challenge for the party. The Labour electoral system pretty much prevents the loser in a close contest to challenge again, as you would expect in Australia (as happened with Brendan Nelson and Malcolm Turnbull, and many earlier leadership contests). Having said that, the younger Milliband ran on a platform of rejecting New Labour, and managed to win only with the support of union members, with slim majorities of MPs and party members going for David. This will make him vulnerable to attacks from the Conservatives as a puppet of the unions, although it is worth noting that the union vote comes from individual members (with 211,000 voting) rather than from union leadership.

The UK Labour website provides a remarkable level of detail on the result, which I hope to analyse for another post tomorrow. They include primary vote breakdowns for each Constituency Labour Party and for each affiliated organisation, and the entire preference flow for every MP.


UK Labour chooses a new leader

The UK Labour Party is currently entering the final stages of a months-long process to choose a leader to succeed Gordon Brown, following their election defeat earlier this year.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown resigned, both as Labour leader and as Prime Minister, on 11 May, six days after the general election produced a hung parliament, leading to a coalition of the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats.

Under Labour Party rules, the Leader and Deputy Leader of the party are elected by a vote of three groups of people, with their votes weighted such that each group makes up one third of the votes counted:

  • Labour members of the House of Commons and European Parliament
  • Individual members of the Labour Party
  • Individual members of affiliated organisations (mainly trade unions)

Votes are counted using preferential voting. In 2010, voting will close today, September 22, with the result announced at the Labour conference on Saturday September 25.

It’s important to stress how different this is to how all political parties in Australia elect their leaders. Under this system, which was introduced in 1993 and used to elect Tony Blair in 1994 and Gordon Brown in 2007, grassroots members of both the party and affiliated organisations become much more significant, although the one third of the vote cast by Members of Parliament is nothing to sneeze at.

At the leadership election in 1994, Blair was easily elected, winning over 50% in every category, although that varied from 52% of party members to 60% of MPs. In 2007, Brown was elected unopposed.

The only close election conducted under this system was the party’s deputy leadership election in 2007. None of the six candidates gained more than 20% of the vote in the first round, with the three voting groups leaning towards different candidates. After a series of eliminations, Harriet Harman narrowly defeated Alan Johnson. Johnson won a majority amongst affiliated organisations and MPs, but lost due to Harman winning a larger majority amongst party members.

There are five candidates standing in 2010. Former Foreign Secretary David Milliband; former Climate Change Secretary Ed Milliband; former Education Secretary Ed Balls, former Health Secretary Andy Burnham; and London MP Diane Abbott.

Each candidate was required to receive 33 nominations from Members of Parliament. Left-winger John McDonnell originally made an attempt at achieving  this number, before withdrawing and endorsing Abbott. David Milliband, who was nominated by many more than 33 MPs, “loaned” some of his nominators to Abbott to get her over the line.

Four of the five candidates are strikingly similar, while the fifth stands out. Abbott is a member of the party’s left and held no ministerial office in the Blair/Brown Government. She is the only woman and the only candidate from an ethnic minority standing. She has been a Member of Parliament since 1987, while none of the other candidates was elected to Parliament before the turn of the decade.

The leading candidates are the brothers Milliband. David, the older brother, was elected to Parliament in 2001 and was previously a senior advisor to Tony Blair. Ed was elected to Parliament in 2005 after serving as an advisor to Gordon Brown.

Ed Balls was an advisor to Gordon Brown in opposition and the early years of government, going on to serve as chief economic advisor at the Treasury before being elected to Parliament in 2005. He went on to serve in the Brown Cabinet, alongside his wife Yvette Cooper, who has been a member of Parliament since 1997. Cooper was considered a possible candidate for the leadership, but withdraw in favour of her husband.

Andy Burnham has been an MP since 2001, and served as Health Secretary from 2009 to 2010, and a number of other roles before that.

Limited opinion polling has shown that, on primary votes, the Milliband brothers stand out ahead of the rest of the field, a September poll showed Ed Milliband slightly ahead, although David was winning a slim majority amongst MPs. Their campaigns have drawn a sharp distinction in terms of the direction of the Labour Party. David Milliband has emphasised the need to win back the voters lost to the Conservatives by maintaining the centre ground staked out by Tony Blair, while Ed Milliband and his supporters have talked more about winning back those alienated by Tony Blair’s “third way” agenda.


Cameron cutting seat numbers in UK

David Cameron, the leader of the Opposition in the United Kingdom, is planning to immediately cut the number of seats in the House of Commons following an election victory this year, according to reports.

Cameron’s plan involves immediately introducing legislation following an election which would trigger a rapid review of electoral boundaries in England and Wales in order to cut the number of seats by approximately 10%.

Electoral boundary reviews in the past have taken as long as seven years, and the new boundaries being used for the 2010 election are based on registered voter figures from the year 2000. Cameron’s legislation would give only 18 months for a new review.

The Conservatives are arguing that the cut in the size of the Commons, which will have 650 members after this year’s election, is intended to cut the cost of politics, not to achieve electoral gain. While it is probably a good idea to shrink the Commons to less than 600 seats, the costs of those 65 members of Parliament really don’t add up to a lot in the scheme of things.

There is some electoral benefit for the Conservatives in speeding up the process of boundary reviews. Strong Labour areas like the inner cities tend to be depopulating, which means that boundaries drawn using out-of-date data will tend to mean that the number of voters in Labour seats is less than in Conservative seats. Yet this is only a minor issue. The main bias against the Conservatives in the electoral system comes from the geographical distribution of Conservative voters. Labour voters tend to be more ‘effective’, spread efficiently over marginal seats, while Conservative voters are locked up in huge majorities in safe seats. This is the main reason why the Conservatives need to beat Labour by a wide margin to win a majority. No redrawing of the boundaries will fix this: all systems of single-member electorates favours one party over another.

Labour in the UK is crying ‘gerrymander’ over the proposal, although it seems that numerical fairness is on the Conservative side. It seems that the Conservative plan is a good idea, but won’t achieve any of the aims being spun by either side about removing the bias in the electoral system.

In other news, I have just finished the South-East England region in my map of the 1997-2005 electoral boundaries, which I am hoping to finish before the UK election later this year. Maps below the fold.

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Labour and SNP go head to head in Glasgow North East

Result: Labour has held on against the SNP with 59.4% of the vote. The SNP polled 20%, while the Conservatives polled 5.2%. The BNP came fourth with 4.9% followed by former socialist MSP Tommy Sheridan and the  Liberal Democrats.

Voters are now going to the polls to elect a new Member of Parliament in the Glasgow North East constituency in Scotland. Vacated by Speaker Michael Martin in June after he was forced from the Speakership, the seat has seen a fierce contest between the ruling Labour Party and the Scottish National Party, the third such contest since Gordon Brown became Prime Minister.

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