Writing in the New Statesman’s blog, The Staggers, on Tuesday George Eaton made the following observation about what would happen if the current polling percentages were repeated at a General Election:
The Conservatives can have no complaints about the outcome delivered by an electoral system they have consistently defended and Labour governed for a full term after winning on just 35 per cent of the vote in 2005 (it bagged 55 per cent of the seats). But party figures have told me that they fear Labour could face a “crisis of legitimacy” if it wins an outsized majority on a thin slice of the vote. A share of 34 per cent would be the lowest winning percentage of the vote since 1832.
The language is interesting. Set aside for a moment the idea of such a large majority for Labour if it only secures 34% of the votes cast at the General Election on a turnout of around 65%. The real crisis of legitimacy that would finally emerge as a talking point following such an election ‘victory’ is that there would be a Labour government, imposing its will on the entire country without check, balance or accountability to voters, that was voted for by only 22% of registered voters.
There is not just fear within the political class about the impression that would be made by a large Labour majority on a very small percentage of the vote. There is fear people will wake up and declare it to be unacceptable that with approaching 40% of voters rejecting all the parties, any of them can claim to represent the people. The illusion of legitimacy for the political class will be crumbling.
We can expect to see another push for Proportional Representation as part of an electoral reform package. Perhaps even the first moves to make voting compulsory. Not just because the distribution of votes would make party representation in the House in terms of seats ‘fair’, but because it would allow for the appearance of legitimacy as the political class will seek to focus attention away from turnout and purely on to share of the vote – while increasing numbers of Britons refuse to support any of them.