There is a general election rapidly approaching, a mere two years after the last—the idea of them being fixed at every five years having been quickly made a mockery of when it suited the incumbent government—and the media is full of calls to make sure I’m registered I am, to make sure I go to the polls. Yet I can’t help but wonder why I should. Unlike the last general election where my vote might have counted, this time I moved to James Brokenshire‘s ultra safe1 constituency of Old Bexley and Sidcup.
There are those who argue that I should vote anyway; they shout about how those not voting (who they call lazy but one might consider disillusioned) could have changed everything. Let’s consider that. The raw numbers from the last election are presented in Table 1, and represented graphically in Figure 1. As can be seen, the Conservative candidate holds what may be understated as a healthy lead. There’s no reason to expect a major shift in the demographic of voters between this election and the upcoming one, given the small timescale though there is I suppose always the possibility of a Brexit effect I’m going to ignore that as I’ve no idea how Brexit plays out, so we can consider a couple of scenarios in which Brokenshire essentially maintains his support—i.e. what happens if we “get off our lazy arses and make a difference” as some would have our lack of faith in the system be seen.
|Candidate||Party||Votes||% of Votes||% of Electorate|
|James Brokenshire||Conservative Party||24682||52.8||37.4|
|Ibrahim Mehmet||Labour Party||8879||19.0||13.4|
|Catherine Reilly||UK Independence Party||8528||18.2||12.9|
|Jennifer Keen||Liberal Democrats||1644||3.5||2.5|
|Derek Moran||Green Party||1336||2.9||2.0|
|Bob Gill||National Health Action Party||1216||2.6||1.8|
|Laurence Williams||Christian Party||245||0.5||0.4|
|Nicola Finch||British National Party||218||0.5||0.3|
Scenario 1–Randomly Vote
|Drew Heffernan||Liberal Democrat|
|Derek Moran||Green Party|
|Chinwe Nwadikeduruibe||Christian People’s Alliance|
Obviously randomly assigning non-voters to a party wouldn’t change anything if the Conservatives are included—votes would go up but the proportions would stay the same.. For simplicity I’m also excluding the 105 rejected ballets. Scenario 1 then is for everyone who didn’t vote last time to randomly vote against the Conservatives3 (there is no reason, of course, to assume that among those not voting last time were Conservative supporters—it is perfectly plausible they felt no need to do so given who safe the seat is; they were more or less assured of victory anyway). The results are shown in Table 2.
|Party||Actual Result||Scenario 1||Scenario 2||Scenario 3|
|Christian People’s Alliance||0.5||5.5||–||–|
Scenario 2—Vote For The Big Parties
If the non-voters turning out and randomly voting against the Conservative Party doesn’t get us anywhere, what if we assume they go for just the major parties. To make it more interesting, we can also assume the smaller parties disappear and all their voters go for a non-Conservative option too4. The long and short of it is that the Conservative majority still isn’t really threatened. We need more.
Scenario 3—The Big Three
What happens if we assume that everyone just votes for the big three parties. Here I’m controversially calling the third party Liberal Democrats rather than UKIP on the assumption that Brexit will mean UKIP are seen as job done. Again, the Conservative Party are assumed not to gain additional votes, however unlikely that is. This analysis shows that their majority is still intact.
The above all shows that it isn’t unless there is a concerted effort by voters to vote for a single party against the Conservatives that anything changes. This includes the need to get non-voters to join in. Reality is that some people will continue to vote for other parties (weakening the challenge), some will continue not to vote, and the Conservatives will possibly gain additional voters from now defunct parties (contrary to the assumptions above). That they should be defeated under those circumstances is obviously very unlikely. Which means those votes against—or more accurately for some other party—will ultimately count for nothing; will have no voice (and this avoids any debate about the merits of the non-voters having some sort of voice other than their despairing silence). Under the first past the post system this can’t change and thousands go with no real say. That is not democracy. One may as well make an origami butterfly of the ballot paper and watch it blow in the wind for the effect it will have.
- See for instance, Voter Power for just how safe ↩
- Electoral Commission ↩
- There is one fewer candidate standing this time. For the purposes of this analysis I’ve reassigned the Christian Party’s votes to the Christian People’s Alliance and spread the National Health Party’s among the non-Conservative parties. ↩
- I’m counting the Liberal Democrats as a larger party here more for historical reasons than anything else, though actually it wouldn’t make much difference as we’ll see ↩