May 162010
 

For some reason I have this corny idea that for a political party in Britain to stand a parliamentary candidate in a parliamentary constituency, that party has to pay £500 to… somebody. And he must win 5% of the vote if he wants that money back.

Therefore to have even the hope of securing a parliamentary majority, a political party has to stump up a minimum of £163,000. And until recently there has been very little point in aiming for less than a majority. (Pace the Lib Dems, the true winners of the recent election despite coming, er, third.)

Assuming this corny idea is at all accurate (and trust me, I hope to be corrected on this point of fact), the only possible justification for it is that somebody, somewhere wishes to discourage what we might call ‘frivolous’ candidacies. That is to say, nobody shall stand for parliament for giggles, else he or his party shall lose £500.

The average size of a parliamentary constituency in the UK is 70,000 voters, at least according to Wikipedia, of which 5% is 3,500.

If we apply average voter turnout for the nation to the constituencies themselves (a rough and dirty approximation to be sure), then of the potential 70,000 voters in each, only 45,500 of them actually voted in this most recent election – meaning that to secure his £500 deposit, a candidate actually need only about 2,275 votes.

It is very difficult to know ahead of time whether acquiring this number of votes is possible for a small-party candidates, and indeed many majorities (Ed Balls’s, for instance) are smaller than this amount.

But what I’m getting at vis a vis my corny idea is that somebody, somewhere in the British government has decreed that if you can’t get 2,275 people to vote for your ass, you must pay up, sucka.

And if we carry the arithmetic just a little bit further, we see that the British government has essentially assigned a monetary value to every vote, and that value for the recent election was approximately £0.22.*

I’d say that’s about right, wouldn’t you?

P.S. Does anybody know what party expenditure was during this past campaign? I’m interested to know because, at that value per vote, one would expect a Tory party spend of some £2.3m, a Labour party spend of about £2m, and a Lib Dem spend of about £1.5m. Does those numbers sound close to reality?

*Merci, Dan.

  4 Responses to “A thought re: British democracy”

  1. Isn’t it 22p per vote? I think the 4.55 you got was votes per pound, not the other way round.

  2. The deposit was rasied, oooh, back in hte 80s I think, from £150. For exactly this reason:

    “to discourage what we might call ‘frivolous’ candidacies. That is to say, nobody shall stand for parliament for giggles, else he or his party shall lose £500.”

    Bernard Levin (very sound on civil liberties and the like, even if wildly odd on Wagner) did a lovely piece about it back then. Frivolous candidates make politics itself seem frivolous, you see, and the Egos simply cannot have that.

  3. Presumably your estimate of a fiver is much closer to the amount of compensation people should get for being denied a vote on May 6, not the 750 quid that was being bandied about by, er… compensation lawyers.

  4. I thought the cost of my vote seemed quite expensive 😉

    Found some data from 2005:
    http://spreadsheets.google.com/ccc?key=0AtlI-CBz-3gOdDNXaE5WbXIzS0E2M3pTazNiamktT3c&hl=en

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