May 09, 2005 | Graham

Blair has solid Antipodean result

Scale the British election results back in size to what they would have been in an Australian context, and you can see just how impressive Tony Blair’s third win really was. There are 646 House of Commons seats in Britain versus 150 House of Representatives seats in Australia. Applying the proportion of the seats won by Tony Blair to the size of the Australian House of Reps would give Blair 83 seats – only two less than John Howard holds at the moment.
Not only that, but his main opposition party would hold only 46 seats – that’s 14 less than the ALP holds in the Australian Parliament. And the Greens would hold 14, while various independents and the Democrats would hold 7.
ALP supporters in Australia are glum enough at the moment, but imagine the position if they represented only one-third of the seats, with the remainder being held by a variety of centre/right parties and candidates who would most likely support a minority Howard government if he didn’t win an absolute majority!
There is obviously a gerrymander or malapportionment that helps to boost the Labour vote in Britain – they have achieved this commanding position with only 35.2% support. But then, percentages can’t be treated the same way in a first-past-the-post system as they can with our preferential one. The Conservatives scored 32.3% of the vote, which is about the percentage they won of the seats, so the percentages of Labour and Lib/Dem votes are probably also affected by tactical voting where in some electorates Labour voters vote Lib/Dem, and vice-versa.
The election is also notable for the almost total failure of Crosby/Textor to make a real dent in the Labour vote – the Conservatives were always going to make up ground this election. Their net 33 seat gain is the equivalent of picking up 8 seats in an Australian election. The real Crosby/Textor effect was to boost the Lib Dems by 11 seats to give them their best result since 1922.
While immigration bit as an issue, the benefit didn’t appear to go to anyone in particular. The protest vote, such as it was, was a left-wing phenomenon based on opposition to the Iraq War, so any success they had in getting it out and branding Blair a liar was not to the Tories benefit. An effective protest vote campaign relies on subtlety, and by being so visible in the media – whether by his own design or that of their enemies – Crosby virtually guaranteed that his strategy would fail. Come election day vast numbers of voters understood the risks inherent in protest voting, and everyone’s ears were tuned to the pitch of the dog-whistle.
Of course, you won’t read in too many places that Blair gained a good result. The reason for that is that he has enemies both within and without his own party who want to pull him down. Just as with Howard, he has alienated many in the chattering classes because of his support for the war in Iraq, which further slants analysis. And finally, his previous result was so improbably good it provided an unrealistic benchmark by which to measure this election.

Posted by Graham at 5:55 am | Comments (2) |


  1. It’s interesting to see comparisons such as these, although I think the UK electoral system is so flawed and unfair that it’s not really feasible to make genuine assessments about what the result means, let trying to extrapolate that to other countries.
    First past the post, voluntary voting and sizeable malapportionment all seriously distort the result (not to mention the non-elected Upper House). It you get on the right side of those sort of factors, it’s not so hard to look good even though in this case Labour only received a vote from about 22% of the total number of registered voters.
    There is also the oddity of a sizable minority of Labour candidates being solidly against the Iraq war (and to some extent anti-Blair), so its hard to assess what that says about public views.
    Nationalist parties in Wales and Scotland, and particularly the totally separate set of parties in Northern Ireland also hamper any effort to directly translate the results.
    I’m not sure who you’re comparing the Australian Greens with in order for them to get 14 seats – UK Greens ran in many seats with minimal success. I think the Greens & the Lib Dems would both be offended by the comparison!
    Still the notion of a genuine 3 party system applying in Australia in the House of Reps is a nice thought – if still a bit of an impossible dream at the moment.

    Comment by Andrew Bartlett — May 9, 2005 @ 6:49 pm

  2. I don’t think the comments about Blair only winning 22 percent of votes from registered voters only tell us something about Blair – I think they tell us something about the opposition parties and the general state of satisfaction with government in general. If Brits in general were concerned about the direction in which their government was heading, there would have been a higher turnout.
    The Greens are being compared to the Lib/Dems, not on the basis of policies, but as being the major cross-benches party.
    Of course the comparison has flaws, but so too does the analysis that says because Blair lost 50 seats it is a huge loss.
    I’d agree that the UK system is a mess, although not that it doesn’t give a result that is probably pretty similar to what you’d get under much less messy arrangements.
    Baroness Helena Kennedy QC of the Shaws spoke at the Brisbane Institute’s Anual Dinner last night and briefly tackled the question of an elected upper house. She was trying to come up with a formula for keeping party politics there to a minimum and giving minority groups a bigger say. As a result she appeared to be advocating proportional representation, but possibly coupled to 10 year terms of office, and no right to stand for re-election. Wonder how that would go here.
    BTW, have you noticed we’ve included your feed in our Domain?

    Comment by Graham Young — May 10, 2005 @ 6:24 am

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