Sunday 23rd October 2016                 Change text size:

Which is more representative: Lords or Commons?

houses of parliament by shining.darkness via flickr

This week the House of Lords triggered a Westminster spat by voting down the Government’s plans to reduce tax credits. On the Government side it was argued that unelected Lords had acted unconstitutionally over a finance matter, by convention the preserve of the elected chamber. But which chamber is more representative of the support each party secured at the May 2015 general election? Lords or Commons.

If we take the whole electorate, rather than just those who voted (not voting is a vote of sorts), the Conservative Party secured 24% of the electorate, gaining 51% of the seats in the House of Commons.

If we take only those who voted (not voting could be seen as opting out), the Conservative Party secured 37% of the votes for 51% of the seats. So far, so very First-Past-the-Post.

From the chart below however it looks like the House of Commons is less representative of the democratic choices of the people in 2015, on the balance of which party governs them, than the House of Lords is – which is a decidedly British and eccentric outcome.

Share of electorate, voters, commons and lords

If the Conservatives secured 24% of the electorate and 37% of votes, their 30% share of seats in the House of Lords seems a more representative number, and a lot fairer than the 51% they have in the Commons.

Labour’s support from 20% of the electorate and 30% of votes, suggests their 26% share in the House of Lords is, once again, a more representative number.

The second tier parties (SNP/LibDems) all go whacko with First-Past-the-Post. The SNP secured 5% of the votes nationally (albeit it they only contests seats in Scotland, where they gained 50% of the votes) and gained 9% of the Commons seats. The LibDems got more votes (8%) but fewer seats (1%). The LibDems share of seats in the Lords at 14% is way out of kilter with their support in the country.

Smaller parties – the Greens, UKIP, etc. – get a really rough deal with 13% of the electorate and 20% of those who actually bothered to turn out to vote backing them, but being rewarded with only 4% of the Commons.

Time for a grown up constitutional conversation about making our democracy sustainable, accountable and representative, with far less outrage from MPs with a dubious mandate.

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