Comment: Let’s make this the last ever ‘lottery election’

May 2015 could be the ‘lottery election’ – where your vote is worth about as much as a lottery ticket

British politics is now truly a multi-party phenomenon. The SNP could win over 50 seats, potentially overtaking the Liberal Democrats, while UKIP and the Greens together currently have the support of over a fifth of the UK population. The era of everyone voting for the two main parties is long gone.

But what happens when this is combined with a worn-out electoral system like First Past the Post?

The answer is: chaos. May 2015 could be what the Electoral Reform Society is calling a ‘lottery election’ – where your vote is worth about as much as a lottery ticket.

The ERS asked polling expert Professor John Curtice from the University of Strathclyde to look at some of the possible post-May scenarios: he found that it could all depend on relatively small swings of the vote affecting the whole outcome of the election.

Take one example. Despite the surge of the SNP to double-digit leads over Labour, small swings in the vote and its geographical spread mean they could either end up with a handful of seats or dozens (see graph). A neck-and-neck Labour/SNP result would leave the nationalists with fewer than 20 seats to Labour’s near-40, while a ten-point SNP lead would almost completely reverse that result.


When the Greens and UKIP are thrown into the mix, the result becomes even more unpredictable. What is likely, however, is that both parties will be disappointed, with UKIP potentially failing to build on their two by-election victories even with an expected 13 per cent of the national vote. At the same time the Greens – though likely to retain Brighton Pavilion – could fail to make any gains even with the 8 per cent they are currently polling.

Yet the Lib Dem vote could to some extent determine the election, with their support hitting the Conservatives harder than Labour. To illustrate this, a Lib Dem vote of 10 per cent would mean the Conservatives need a seven-point lead for a majority. But a Lib Dem result of 15 per cent would raise that to a full ten points (see graph).

That’s what happens when you try to squeeze six or seven-party politics into a two-party voting system. All the parties are affected by the lottery election one way or another, and while some may got lucky, others are going to be sorely disappointed.


Is this any way to determine the make-up of the next House of Commons? What can we do to make it fairer?

What we need above all is an electoral system that reflects how diverse British politics has become. One positive result of the May election might be that debates around electoral reform come back on the agenda. Perhaps we could even make 2015 the last lottery election.

Read ‘The Lottery Election’ here.

Josiah Mortimer works for the Electoral Reform Society

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36 Responses to “Comment: Let’s make this the last ever ‘lottery election’”

  1. AlanGiles

    I agree with the gist of the article, but neither Labour or Conservative politicians would want to see an end of the status quo, simply because it is a pantomime where both take top billing in turns. Hapless Ed’s and Supersnob Tristram Hunt’s attacks on the Greens, though born of desperation shows they don’t want cooperation, even within their own party there are strong disagreements (Hodge last week for example when announcing she was withdrawing from the Mayoral contest took a pop at Christain Woolmar (“Who?” she said even though she has known him for years. The Tories of course are no better. If they can’t get on with each other they are not going to get on with outsiders.

    And though they are supposed to despise each other, look how both sides try to protect each other with things like expenses and other aspects of their pampered lifestyles

  2. Leon Wolfeson

    And what the politicians think about their precious status quo is any reason not to campaign for PR?

    Come off it.

  3. Leon Wolfeson

    I’d be more impressed if the ERS hadn’t campaigned for AV, which can be less fair at times than FPTP, amplifying swings.

    We need PR, though, yes.

  4. JAK

    Leon, It was AV or FPTP. Because AV was rejected voting reform is now off the agenda, which is where the main two political parties want it, we’re now stuck with FPTP until their influence is severely diminished. AV would at least have been a foot in the door.

  5. AlanGiles

    I didn’t say that. I am merely stating the obvious – the two main parties will fight tooth and nail to prevent any changes to a system which profits both of them

  6. colin s crouch

    Let’s be realistic. With a third of the voters likely to vote Labour, and a third likely to vote Tory, and a third voting for other parties (and we are not yet considering the non-voters), the electoral results are bound to be chaotic, whatever the outcome,
    The problem here is whether one party, whether Tory or Labour, will be able to provide a clear result, whether first-past-the-post, or otherwise. So far, neither of the main parties has achieved much headway.
    If the two parties mess things up, it is their own fault!

  7. littleoddsandpieces

    The grey vote of the poor, retiring from next year, must realise just how much they have been betrayed by the Lib Dem Pensions Minister Mr Steve Webb.

    See how under my petition, in my WHY IS THIS IMPORTANT, at:

    and then also sign the petition that was only about the raised retirement age, but can include all the con of the flat rate pension in parliamentary debate:


    There is a way to stitch together a multi party coalition, by socialist parties winning marginals, because of a unique set of circumstances for the first time in this GE2015.

    There is no such thing as a small party. All parties are not gaining voters.

    But voting has never been more important to all the poor, below 20 per cent lowest income, in or out of work. The poor, sick, disabled, young, old, unemployed, working poor.

    15 million did not vote in 2010, 9 million of which were women.

    Our lives depend on bringing together such a coalition of hope against freezing and starving.

  8. robertcp

    A very moderate reform could mitigate many of the problems of first past the post. We could continue to elect 80-90% of MPs through first past the post, while the remaining 10-20% could be elected proportionately. Perverse results would be less likely and it would be possible for all of the major parties to win seats in all parts of Great Britain.

  9. Leon Wolfeson

    Labour would be looking down the barrel of PASOK’s fall from grace, right.

    Again, won’t stop me for a moment.

  10. Leon Wolfeson

    Sounds rather like the proposed “AV+” system to me.

    I’m unconvinced it’s a better idea that adopting Germany’s system and doing away with the perverse incentives entirely. It still leads to the dominance of a few big parties with little room for smaller parties, for instance, and it does very little indeed to eliminate safe regional seats.

    (I admit that MMP also does have – although significantly fewer – safe regional seats, but that’s essentially fully compensated by the party vote, which AV+ does not do)

  11. Leon Wolfeson

    You want voting reform to be off the agenda, as you argue just that. If we had AV, they’d of said – as they made 100% plain – “that’s it, nothing more”.

    Neither way would have lead to any flexability on future changes, and hence I opposed AV on the merits and issues of AV, which is absolutely the only sensible way to approach it.

  12. Guest

    Socialists don’t support pro-Hamas sites, in general, you know.


  13. steroflex

    Postal Voting, Mr Josiah Mortimer of the Electoral Reform Society?
    Tower Hamlets?
    The totally unfair boundaries where some constituencies are more constituent than others?
    With a ballot box, with voting slips and a fair electoral roll, then a counting system that is open but not full of Lutfur Rahman supporters, first past the post is obvious, simple and fair.
    All the other proportional systems are confusing, open to corruption and liable to lead to another coalition. Does Labour need that?

  14. Leon Wolfeson

    No surprise you’ll defend the Tories favoured FPTP.

    No surprise you hate the idea of the elderly, etc. being able to vote, when we unlike many countries have a single polling day, very little other help for people to get to polling stations, etc.

    That you claim massive differences between what people vote for and what they get are “obvious, simple and fair…” well, it’s clear your problem with Lutfur Rahman is he simply isn’t of the right party for you.

    We have coalitions, they just *call* themselves parties and people don’t get what they vote for. That’s the FPTP you’re defending.

  15. robertcp

    The percentages are similar to those suggested in the Jenkins Report but first past the post would be used in the constituency elections. The Alternative Vote part of AV+ is not an option after 2011. To be honest, my post was aimed at people who currently support first past the post rather than people who want MMP or another proportional system.

  16. Leon Wolfeson

    When they allowed PR in polling before the AV referendum, it was scoring around twice AV’s support. Quite simply, I don’t believe there’s any need to consider very partially proportional systems because in a FPTP vs PR contest, PR would win handily.

  17. robertcp

    The history of the last 20 years suggests that the Conservative and Labour Parties will not agree to a referendum on PR. As I said, my post was not aimed at people who already agree with PR.

  18. Leon Wolfeson

    But you’re talking to a distinct minority – and one which isn’t going to want a change from FPTP anyway. Again, there’s no substantial need to compromise on a system with them.

    And I don’t really care what the entrenched political right want.

  19. robertcp

    I hope that you are right.

  20. Barry Scarfe

    Yes, why not maintain British politics as the Labour/Tory stitch-up it is and that is certainly the intention of those two parties. Surely, one of the main reasons why so many people want electoral reform is to open-up British politics to all parties?

  21. Barry Scarfe

    Out of all the various PR systems, I believe Germany’s is the best. Of course, there is no such thing as a perfect electoral system but the one they use in that country combines the British-valued constituency link with a great deal of proportionality and the threashold of 5% or 3 constituency seats prevents too much fragmentation of the political system. I think it is better than STV in some ways. I only wish the Electoral Reform Society wasn’t so dogmatic in its support of STV because if that were the only system on offer in a future referendum I do believe it may be rejected. The British people don’t seem to want any system which involves preference voting.

  22. Leon Wolfeson

    I’d also take Germany’s system wholesale for the commons, and I agree the ERS’s stance is less than useful.

    (What happens to the Lords, well, we’d have to see but it becomes a lot less important if we get commons reform)

  23. Leon Wolfeson

    Hope? You hope, I’ll go with polling.

  24. robertcp

    I look forward to voting in the first MMP General Election in 2020!

  25. robertcp

    I support electoral reform but it is not going to happen unless it is supported by one or both of the two biggest parties.

  26. Barry Scarfe

    If we adopted STV it could be a problem if Scotland remains a part of the United Kingdom because the multi-member constituencies in the Highlands would have to be huge. Yes, the ERS’s stance drives potential supporters away from it.. STV depending upon how many MPs are elected per constituency could be painted by opponents in a referendum as only being helpful to centrist parties like the Lib Dems and that would be a gift to reform opponents as it was during the AV referendum. If we are to get the British electorate to endorse real electoral reform we need to put a system on the table that can’t be seen in that way and which would appeal to supporters of BOTH left-wing and right-wing parties and I think that MMP/AMS fits that. Too often, the ERS comes across as a ‘leftie love in’.

  27. Leon Wolfeson

    So in practice, you’re thus opposing it because you refuse to admit it can happen…

  28. robertcp

    I have supported electoral reform for 30 years.

  29. Leon Wolfeson

    So when did you stop? Again, saying it’s conditional on party approval is just that.

    Plenty of measures have been enacted because of public pressure, and this is one such which is becoming very hard indeed for the main parties to avoid as their vote erodes. The *problem* from my perspective is that they’ll fight to keep it semi-proportional such as AV+, or to use STV, rather than MMP.

  30. robertcp

    I have not stopped supporting electoral reform but we need to be realistic after the disaster of 2011. I would be delighted if we got AV+ or STV.

  31. Leon Wolfeson

    You are basically trying to preserve the current parties, at all costs, as far as I can see.

    The appetite for change, when polled, is for systems like MMP.
    But you want to bring up chimeras like the absolute farce which was the AV referendum to prevent that.

    AV is LESS fair in many situations than FPTP. But yet…

  32. robertcp

    As I said earlier, I hope that you are right and I look forward to voting in the first MMP election.

  33. Leon Wolfeson

    Okay. Well, that’s nice. In the meantime, those of us who seriously want that have campaigning to do.

  34. Moodoo

    I doubt the public will ever vote for electoral reform, the main argument against AV was that it would lead to coalitions after every election and that is not a popular idea at all.

    The solution here maybe more radical than most people think, having PR with coalitions after every election will lead to less engagement with politics and less democracy. The problem is the Westminster system itself, moving towards the direct election of governments is the answer. France, the US and many other countries do this and it could be done without changing the role of the monarchy.

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