How electoral reform changes the 2005 result

Who would have won and lost from electoral reform in 2005.

As MPs prepare to vote on Gordon Brown's plan to hold a referendum on the Alternative Vote (AV), here's a guide to how the various electoral systems would have changed the outcome in 2005.

First-past-the post

FPTP

The actual result. Labour won 356 seats, the Tories 198 and the Liberal Democrats 62. Labour's majority was 66.

Alternative Vote

AV 2

Rerunning the 2005 election under the Alternative Vote reminds us that this method can produce even more distorted outcomes than first-past-the-post (FPTP). Under AV, Labour's majority rises to 88, the Liberal Democrats fail to clear the 100-seat barrier and minority parties make no gains.

The reason AV would swell the Labour majority (the party would have won 367 seats) is the high number of second-preference votes the party could expect to win from Lib Dem supporters. The Lib Dems would benefit in turn from second-preference Labour votes and would have won 74 seats under AV, 12 more than under first-past-the-post.

By contrast, the persistence of anti-Tory tactical voting in 2005 would have given the Conservatives just 175 seats, 23 fewer than they actually won. The Electoral Reform Society used opinion-poll findings from 2005 to estimate where voters' second preferences would have gone.

Alternative Vote Plus

AV+

Under the Alternative Vote Plus (AV+), which includes a second vote for a top-up list of MPs, we enter hung parliament territory for the first time. Labour's majority falls to 308, leaving it 15 seats short of a majority, and the Lib Dems make a major breakthrough, winning 110 seats. The Tories win 199, just one more than under first-past-the-post.

Single transferable vote

STV

Under the single transferable vote (STV), Labour wins just 264 seats, leaving the party 61 seats short of a majority. The Lib Dems, who favour this system, pick up 147 seats, 73 more than under AV and 85 more than under first-past-the-post. The Tories win 200 seats, just two more than under FPTP.

Additional member system

AMS

If used in 2005, the additional member system would have produced the most proportionate outcome. Labour would have won 242 seats, 81 short of a majority, and the Tories 208 seats, ten more than under first-past-the-post. The Lib Dems would have picked up 144 seats, three fewer than under STV. But minority parties would have achieved their first breakthrough, with ten Ukip candidates, two BNP members and two Greens elected.

 

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George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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We argue over Charlie Gard, but forget those spending whole lives caring for a disabled child

The everyday misery of care work is hidden behind abstract arguments over life and death.

“Sometimes,” says the mother, “I wish we’d let him go. Or that he’d just been allowed to slip away.” The father agrees, sometimes. So too does the child, who is not a child any more.

On good days, nobody thinks this way, but not all days are good. There have been bright spots during the course of the past four decades, occasional moments of real hope, but now everyone is tired, everyone is old and the mundane work of loving takes a ferocious toll.

When we talk about caring for sick children, we usually mean minors. It’s easiest that way. That for some parents, the exhaustion and intensity of those first days with a newborn never, ever ends – that you can be in your fifties, sixties, seventies, caring for a child in their twenties, thirties, forties – is not something the rest of us want to think about.

It’s hard to romanticise devotion strung out over that many hopeless, sleepless nights. Better to imagine the tragic mother holding on to the infant who still fits in her loving arms, not the son who’s now twice her size, himself edging towards middle-age and the cliff edge that comes when mummy’s no longer around.

Writing on the tragic case of Charlie Gard, the Guardian’s Giles Fraser claims that he would “rain fire on the whole world to hold my child for a day longer”. The Gard case, he argues, has “set the cool rational compassion of judicial judgement and clinical expertise against the passion of parental love”: “Which is why those who have never smelled the specific perfume of Charlie’s neck, those who have never held him tight or wept and prayed over his welfare, are deemed better placed to determine how he is to live and die.”

This may be true. It may also be true that right now, countless parents who have smelled their own child’s specific perfume, held them tightly, wept for them, loved them beyond all measure, are wishing only for that child’s suffering to end. What of their love? What of their reluctance to set the world aflame for one day more? And what of their need for a life of their own, away from the fantasies of those who’ll passionately defend a parent’s right to keep their child alive but won’t be there at 5am, night after night, cleaning out feeding tubes and mopping up shit?

Parental – in particular, maternal – devotion is seen as an endlessly renewable resource. A real parent never gets tired of loving. A real parent never wonders whether actually, all things considered, it might have caused less suffering for a child never to have been born at all. Such thoughts are impermissible, not least because they’re dangerous. Everyone’s life matters. Nonetheless, there are parents who have these thoughts, not because they don’t love their children, but because they do.

Reporting on the Gard case reminds me of the sanitised image we have of what constitutes the life of a parent of a sick child. It’s impossible not to feel enormous compassion for Charlie’s parents. As the mother of a toddler, I know that in a similar situation I’d have been torn apart. It’s not difficult to look at photos of Charlie and imagine one’s own child in his place. All babies are small and helpless; all babies cry out to be held.

But attitudes change as children get older. In the case of my own family, I noticed a real dropping away of support for my parents and disabled brother as the latter moved into adulthood. There were people who briefly picked him up as a kind of project and then, upon realising that there would be no schmaltzy ending to the story, dropped him again. Love and compassion don’t conquer all, patience runs out and dignity is clearly best respected from a distance.

All too often, the everyday misery of care work is hidden behind abstract arguments over who gets the right to decide whether an individual lives or dies. I don’t know any parents who truly want that right. Not only would it be morally untenable, it’s also a misrepresentation of what their struggles really are and mean.

What many parents who remain lifelong carers need is adequate respite support, a space in which to talk honestly, and the recognition that actually, sometimes loving is a grim and hopeless pursuit. Those who romanticise parental love – who, like Fraser, wallow in heroic portrayals of “battling, devoted parents” – do nothing to alleviate the suffering of those whose love mingles with resentment, exhaustion and sheer loneliness.

There are parents out there who, just occasionally, would be willing to set the world on fire to have a day’s respite from loving. But regardless of whether your child lives or dies, love never ends. 

Glosswitch is a feminist mother of three who works in publishing.