Saturday 17 February 2024

Making silly assumptions


Following the results of the Kingswood by-election, Sirjake came up with what some have described as a bizarre defence of his party’s performance. It wasn’t so bad, he said, because “If you add up the Conservative and the Reform Party vote, it’s more than the Labour Party vote”. The statement is, of course, mathematically accurate, albeit of limited practical value. I’ve lost count of exactly how many elections I fought as a candidate when I was politically active, but I think it was around 20. I won a few, but the victories were certainly outweighed by the losses. I don’t doubt, though, that if I’d been able to add the votes of another party selected at random to my own, I could have ‘won’ all of them. That isn’t the way elections work, though.

Sirjake also took comfort from the fact that “Labour did not get over 50%”. It’s another true statement – it just ignores the fact that under a first-past-the-post (FPTP) electoral system there is no requirement to get past 50%. And indeed, in two of the four elections Sirjake has fought in his current constituency, it’s a bar that he didn’t get over himself. Again, it’s not the way elections work, although it’s possible that Nanny hasn’t explained that to him yet.

The attitude underlying it is that candidates for Reform and the people who vote for them are really Tories at heart, and merely temporarily estranged. In fairness, it’s not an attitude limited to Sirjake, or even to the Tories, many of whom would agree with him. It’s also an attitude shared by Labour, who frequently talk and behave as though those who vote for the Lib Dems or the Greens – or Plaid in Wales and the SNP in Scotland – are really just temporarily estranged Labour voters who sooner or later will return to their ‘true’ political home. The Tories and Labour alike see politics as a two-party affair, trying to bring everything down to the level of ‘it’s them or us’, as though they have a right to expect that anyone against ‘the enemy’ will vote for them. Sunak was at it this week, with his statement that anyone not voting for the Tories is voting for Starmer and the Labour Party.

It’s one of the reasons that they both cling to the FPTP electoral system – it’s a system which encourages people to see things in such stark binary terms. Traditionally, it’s Labour which has suffered more than the Tories under this system – the political ‘right’ has long been more united behind one party than the political ‘left’, but Labour would prefer absolute power for a third of the time than sharing power most of the time. Unusually, the system is currently working against the Tories with the splits on the ‘right’ visible not just within the party (where they’ve always existed), but with another party challenging them for the xenophobic and English nationalist votes on which they’ve long been able to rely.

Part of Sirjake’s problem is that he has been unwilling to follow through the logic of his claim. If all those Reform voters would really have preferred a Tory MP to a Labour one, then a proportional system of voting would have allocated their second choices accordingly. Things aren’t quite that simple, though. An unkind soul might well point out that if you add together the Labour vote and either the Lib Dem vote or the Green vote the total would come to more than the total of the Tories and Reform, and if all of those voters had preferred Labour over the Tories, then the Tories would still have lost.

In truth, whatever system is used, it’s dangerous to assume that all of those voting for Party A would really have 'come home' to Party B on second or third choices. That assumes that people’s second and third choices (to say nothing of their first choice) will follow the logic of an analysis of party platforms and policies. Politics really ain’t like that. And that is the real flaw in Sirjake’s analysis.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I know a fervent Welsh Republican, solidly left wing, despises racism, who is voting Reform. His reason: the spread of Islam.