As the election has now been called, expect a lot of such breathless pieces describing the fact that the British “electoral system” could produce a result where one party receives a plurality of the popular vote, and yet the other party may actually form the government and have the prime minister.
The better of this genre may make some historical allusion, a criterion this one satisfies; trotting out a laconic pipe-smoking Harold Wilson to emphasize that the losing party very well may win, and has before! certainly burned a couple paragraphs. I eagerly await the hack handed deployment of democratic theory as applied to the state of Florida, 2000, and the requisite British exhortation that ‘well, we may screw it up a bit, but just look at what the Americans get up to!’
What I would like to see, yet do not expect, is an analysis that digs a little deeper that this:
It wouldn’t matter that the Tory lead in votes, even in the ICM poll, is actually larger in the poll than between Tony Blair and Michael Howard in 2005. That’s the system. David Cameron could protest. He could call for new parliamentary boundaries. He could try trigger a second election. But he’d be on the opposition benches – and that’s what counts.
That’s the system? That’s the best you can do? Yes, in a sense, it is the system; it’s called First Past the Post (or to those of us a bit more electoral-system hip, SMD/Plurality), which logically allows for this result whenever one’s support is inefficiently geographically distributed. It’s not specific to the British electoral system. Such an outcome is more likely when there is a strong third party in the mix, as well as a fleet of geographically based minor / nationalistic parties that have a chance at winning seats.
There are ways around this, even if one assumes the problem at present is the Tory over-concentration in the south and south east of England.