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22 February 2016

What would the political map of Britain look like if it took place under Eurovision rules?

The biggest winners, ironically, would be Ukip.

By james O'Malley

This year’s Eurovision Song Contest is shaking up the voting system. No, the national parliaments won’t be able to get a veto over certain acts (David Cameron doesn’t appear to have won that concession in his renegotiations), but changes are being made to how results are announced in an attempt to make the contest seem less predictable, and therefore more exciting.

The organisers have announced that they are splitting the jury and public votes, and lumping together the public votes when they announce them. In essence, the new system should ensure the winner isn’t obvious until as late into the show as possible – so hopefully the final douze points will send one entrant hurtling up the leaderboard into a surprise first place.

These changes though do not address some of the more fundamental peculiarities of the voting system: It still weighs equally the votes of 80 million Germans and 79,000 Andorans. It makes our much-maligned First Past The Post (FPTP) seems brilliant, by comparison.

But on seeing the news, I couldn’t help but wonder: What if something like the Eurovision system were applied to politics? Election night and Eurovision night are two of my favourite nights of the year – isn’t it time they learned from each other? What if each constituency got to allocate the party that receives the most votes 12 points, second place 10 points, and then eight through to one point for every trailing entrant – just like Eurovision does?

So I took the 2015 election results and used the Eurovision system to tally them up (I ignored the professional juries Eurovision use, because we already have a House of Lords). Each party would end up with a points total, which we could then use to divvy up seats in the House of Commons on a pseudo-proportional representation basis.

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Picture the scene. It’s the early hours on election night and after a dance interval act, David Dimbleby turns to the camera and tells us that it’s time to go live to 650 awkward satellite link-ups where each constituency is going to tell us to which party they are going to award douze points.

The results, it turns out, are rather different. The Conservatives would be the largest party with 128 seats – instead of 331 seats under first-past-the-post or 240 if votes and seats exactly matched. Labour would be five short of that with 123 seats, against 232 now, and 198 seats under a proportional system. Ukip would be up 96 to 97, more than the one they have now and more than the 82 they’d have if they needed PR.  The Liberal Democrats would have 85, up from eight, and again better than the 51 seats they’d secure under PR. The Greens would have 74, up from one, and more than the 51 they’d secure under PR. PR. Plaid Cymru would have six seats, double what they have now, and more than the four they’d expect from PR. The SNP would be the biggest losers, down from 56 to just 13 – worse than the 31 they’d have secured under PR. 

Eurovision election night would have been a better night for the Liberal Democrats – though let’s face it, pretty much anything would have. They’d increasing their seat tally to 85 rather than slashing it to a tenth of that. The Greens and Ukip would have become political sensations, with Nigel Farage’s party earning a whopping 97 seats and entering third place – and he’d have a European voting system to thank for it.The Tories would still be the largest party – but no party would be anywhere close to having a majority. Labour would be only five seats behind the Tories. This would suggest that some rather grand coalition building – of the sort that would put even Israel’s fractured Knesset to shame.

Even the smaller parties, which the dataset I used lumped together, would get a boost – taking 112 seats all together.

The biggest losers of Eurovision election night would undoubtedly be the SNP. Though they wouldn’t be humiliated with nil points, instead of making Scotland’s electoral map look more like a one party state, the party would have picked up only 13 seats. This perhaps underscoring how lucky the party was that we have FPTP and not a more proportional system.

In essence, the effect of the Eurovision voting system appears to be one of squashing the extremes, and fattening of the middle in the service of a closer outcome. The biggest parties would do worse and the medium-sized parties would do much better.

But as an election night nerd, I can’t help but think that it might be worth making the switch, as ultimately such a change would achieve the same objective that Eurovision TV bosses want: A more exciting grand finale.