AV elections will be for fewer seats

The BBC website has a fascinating projection of what the NI election results might have been under the Alternative Vote for Westminster elections. The UK will vote on this system in a referendum some time next year. The exercise assumes voters would have behaved in roughly the same way of course.

The vast majority of Northern Ireland’s 18 MPs would still have been elected. The exception is the DUP’s William McCrea in South Antrim, who would certainly have lost his seat to UUP leader Sir Reg Empey, if the AV system had been used.

What this leaves out is that AV will be combined with a cut in the number of MPs by at least 100. This foreshadows a loss of at least 6 seats in NI, back to the old number of 12. The aim is to create fewer seats of roughly equal populations.

Try again Mr Whyte and give the unionists a fright.

  • Have the Lib Dems signed off on the cut back in number of MPs? They’d hardly trade the change to AV that might gain them some seats and then agree to lose some in an overall shrinkage?

    Besides, won’t it be an uphill struggle to convince the public to back a change in the voting system?

  • Reader

    Alan in Belfast: They’d hardly trade the change to AV that might gain them some seats and then agree to lose some in an overall shrinkage?
    The Conservatives wanted to get rid of 100 seats, the Lib-Dems wanted to get rid of 150. I suppose it’s the proportion of seats they win that matters to the party, though the MPs themselves might be more concerned with the prospective job losses!
    As for the numbers of seats lost in NI. Going by NI seats as a share of the total, and with100 seats lost overall, that means 3 lost in NI, not 6. Going by NI population as a share of the total, with 100 seats gone, that might only be 2 or 3 seats lost

  • Can you buy shares in the boundary commission?! If they can’t agree the new council boundaries, what hope do we have of agreeing Westminster shrinkage!

  • Reader

    Alan in Belfast: If they can’t agree the new council boundaries, what hope do we have of agreeing Westminster shrinkage!
    I think local politicians are messing up the council boundaries, or trying to. I don’t think they will be given that chance for the Westminster constituencies.
    The *real* fun with Westminster constituencies would be had re-cutting a slightly smaller Belfast as a 3 seat city, or keeping a significantly larger Belfast as a 4 seat city.

  • slug


    I don’t think an across-the-UK cut in the number of MPs by 10%, and the AV system gives unionists a fright at all – why would it? Yes fewer MPs for NI but the same proportionally as anywhere else in the UK.

  • slug

    This is not clear.

  • HarryJ

    plus AV will be put to a referendum – so its not even guaranteed

  • Drumlin Rock

    I thought DC was talking about a 10% cut in seats, ie down about 65, or 2 seats over here, plus IF the new councils are eventually agreed then I presume a full redraw will be in order to closer reflect the local government boundaries, if the AV system is introduced (and I think a referendum could be hard to swing) it is taken for granted I presume that the “centre” parties will benefit, ie. Unionists can transfer to the SDLP whilst not feeling guilty about voting Nationalist.

  • PaddyReilly

    The exception is the DUP’s William McCrea in South Antrim, who would certainly have lost his seat to UUP leader Sir Reg Empey, if the AV system had been used.

    Not at all at all at all. This idea fails to appreciate just how unpopular the Tories as opposed to the UUP are in NI. Absolutely no-one would transfer to them.

    Look at Horseman’s blog where he prays for the success of the DUP in Unionist seats.

    South Antrim seems like a good one for the Alliance to (try to) win at some future date.

  • Bulmer

    The original Tory gameplan was to cut the number of seats to lessen the impact of the celtic fringe (in which they have comprehensively lost) but with the effect of increasing the number of potential Tory seats if they break up the inner ciy constituencies.

    That’s still the plan: a permanent Tory majority in England, brought even closer by the emasculation of the Libs. They will still be hoping that AV fails in the referendum so they get the new inbuilt Tory majority without any risk as the new constituencies won’t be part of the referendum.

    Expect fireworks from Labour on this when they do the maths.

  • drumlins rock

    Bulmer, I sorta suspect your right, the main reason for cutting the number of seats is to force a complete redraw of boundaries, although I dont think it will swing completely their way as Labour have so strong an advantage atm. it should level the field between the big two, getting AV past the electorate will be trickey the Lib Dems will find it hard getting it through i suspect, any opinion polls on it?

  • PR,

    This was a thought experiment based entirely on the votes cast last week.

    In South Antrim the result was McRea 34%, Empey 30%, SF+SDLP+Alliance 30%, TUV 5%. If those votes had been transferable, I cannot imagine Reg failing to make up the 4% difference from the votes available.

    In a real life AV election, of course, the situation will be different and probably the constituency boundaries too.

  • “Try again Mr Whyte”

    Get a grip, Brian; there is no need to be offensive.

  • slug

    Also it is Brian who needs to try again (if anyone).

    Brians idea that NI would lose 6 MPs – 33% – where does this come from?

  • Brian Walker

    Nicholas, I appreciate the thoughtul exercise. A boundary review for 12 or so constituencies would of course happen.

    Slug Both the Lib Dems and Cons want a slimmed down parl. See their manifestos (LDs to 500 MPs with STV; Cons to 585 retaining FPTP) and now the coalition agreement item 6:

    “The parties will bring forward a Referendum Bill on electoral reform, which includes provision for the introduction of the Alternative Vote in the event of a positive result in the referendum, as well as for the creation of fewer and more equal sized constituencies. Both parties will whip their Parliamentary Parties in both Houses to support a simple majority referendum on the Alternative Vote, without prejudice to the positions parties will take during such a referendum.”

    Oddly enough neither coalition party wanted AV, that was Labour’s last minute flyer.

    Just a few other thoughts on a fixed term parl and 55% threshold

    Fixed term parliament legislation has to provide a safety valve to allow an ineffective government to fall mid term, or a deadlocked parliament to be dissolved. The devolved legislatures all require a two thirds majority for dissolution. The Conservative-Lib Dem coalition agreement proposes a 55 per cent threshold before Parliament can be dissolved. This is intended to strengthen the hand of the Lib Dems: Cameron could not call an early election without the consent of his coalition partners, because the Conservatives command only 47 per cent of the votes in the Commons.

    Some commentators appear to have confused a dissolution resolution moved by the government, and a confidence motion tabled by the opposition. On no confidence motions tabled by the opposition parties, the normal 50% threshold should continue to apply.

    A final issue is whether the date for the next scheduled general election will change if the government falls mid-term. If an extraordinary election for the devolved legislatures is held in the last six months of a fixed term, the fixed term election is not held. (from the Constitution Unit)

  • Brian Walker

    Nicholas I read your first comment but not your second. ” no need to be offensive”. I thought you’d finished but you got second wind.. I wasn’t being offensive, that’s why I called it “fascinating.” I apologise for my choice of words. I really was inviting you to “try again” not to project a result but to try to describe the electoral character of fewer NI constituencies based on 500 or 585 UK constituencies of roughly equal size – a tall order I know.

    From 500 that would be about 13 for NI.. but then just to be pessimistic we might take into account Cameron’s review of the English ( West Lothian) question. In Ken Clarke task force for the party he envisaged a further reduction in Westminster seats for the devolved areas. In reality, I guess that would now be politically impossible..

  • Brian,

    Apology accepted.

    NI has about 2.9% of the UK population, so that would be 14/15 seats out of 500 or 16/17 out of 585. In the latter case I imagine we might well stick with the current 18 – the reason we have them is that it was impossible to draw a satisfactory 17-seat map in the 1990s.

    Any reduction will of course hit the parties with most seats hardest, because they have more seats to lose.

    The logic of Clarke’s argument surely points more towards devolved power for England rather than cutting back on the representation of the other nations!

  • Drumlin Rock

    Nicholas & Brian, I would still suspect will will lose 2 seats, just to be seen to be fair, and to take account of the WLQ, if the new councils and wards are eventually approved then there is is a strong case for a complete redraw as almost all wards have changed and you would have too much confusion, bad enough as it is. Finally it would also solve the problem of too many MLAs, taking the number down to a workable 96.

  • Brian Walker

    The Boundary review for Westminster constituencies would be a different exercise. An additional devolution penalty for Westminster rep was mooted but not recommended by the Ken Clarke task force, as one way of reducing what was held to be disproprortionate rep from Scotland. You’ll also recall that NI rep was increased from 12 to 17 then 18, as a political concession after the abolition of the old Stormont. There was a temptation to revert.

    .The politics of both a smaller Commons, and English votes on English laws ( in committee and report stages) , always very difficult, is now even more so since the Tories have failed to increase their numbers in Scotland. It’s further complicated by the coalition with the Lib Dems and the fact that cuts based on the ( English) departments affects the size of the block grant, on which S, W, and NI MPs have a vital interest.

    My own view is that that the Cons manifesto commitment, already watered down in the coalition agreement, is unworkable. .I expect the whole topic to be kicked into the long grass.

    Expect too, rumbles to grow louder about AV, the compromise voting system neither governing party actually wants.

  • Reader

    Brian Walker: You’ll also recall that NI rep was increased from 12 to 17 then 18, as a political concession after the abolition of the old Stormont. There was a temptation to revert.
    At 12 seats, NI was always underrepresented, specifically because of Stormont. 17 or 18 seats is more realistic now, and the West Lothian Question isn’t going to be tackled by under-representing NI, Scotland and Wales in non-devolved matters – that would be a catastrophic decision.
    The compromise figure I have seen for proposed Westminster seat numbers is 550 – between the Lib-Dem proposals and Conservative proposals. Unfortunately, I can’t remember where I saw it!

  • slug

    I think Nicholas really has the better grasp on this as well as the better ability to do basic maths.

  • PaddyReilly

    Strangely, I can. Under normal conditions all other parties except possibly some of the TUV would prefer a UUP candidate to a DUP one. But as UCUNF is a conspiracy to benefit the Conservatives, and institute a régime of cuts which we are already experiencing, the 2010 voters were determined to keep them out, and in this they succeeded. If there had been AV last week they would have used it for this purpose.

    The economy of the 6 counties is simply not strong enough to thrive under Conservative monetarism.

  • CatinHat

    The current system is pretty proportional vis a vis unionism versus nationalism.

    Unionist = 18 * 51% = 9.18 seats
    Nationalist = 18 * 42% = 7.56 seats
    Alliance = 18 * 6% = 1.08 seats

    Actual results.

    Unionist = 9 seats
    Nationalist = 8 seats
    Alliance = 1 seat

    Any jigging about to make the system more proportional or randomly altering boundaries will either copper fasten the present situation, or if it does alter it is more likely to alter it to the detriment oof nationalists, not unionists.

  • slug

    The more important thing is the particular parties.