Thursday, 25 July 2013

The Biggest Political Losers

Following on from a Twitter discussion, I decided to have a look at what are the most successful parties (in terms of share of the vote)_not to win a seat at that election. I shall look at general elections in the 20th and 21st centuries. In addition, any party getting over 1% of the vote but no MPs is also listed (but if it isn't the most successful loser that election then it is in italics):

Election Party Vote
January/February 1906 Social Democratic Federation 0.35%
January/February 1910 Social Democratic Federation 0.22%
December 1910 Social Democratic Federation 0.12%
December 1918 Independent National Federation of Discharged & Demobolised Soldiers & Sailors [1] 0.56%
December 1918 Agriculturalist [1] 0.19%
November 1922 Agriculturalist 0.16%
December 1923 Communist Party of Great Britain 0.25%
October 1924 Sinn Féin* [2] 0.22%
May 1929 Communist Party of Great Britain 0.22%
October 1931 Communist Party of Great Britain 0.34%
November 1935 Republican* 0.22%
July 1945 Scottish National Party** 0.11%
February 1950 Communist Party of Great Britain 0.32%
October 1951 Communist Party of Great Britain 0.08%
May 1955 Plaid Cymru*** 0.17%
October 1959 Plaid Cymru*** 0.28%
October 1964 Republican* 0.37%
March 1966 Scottish National Party** 0.47%
June 1970 Plaid Cymru*** 0.62%
February 1974 Pro-Assembly Ulster Unionist* [3] 0.30%
October 1974 National Front 0.39%
May 1979 National Front 0.61%
June 1983 Alliance Party of Northern Ireland* 0.20%
June 1987 Green Party 0.28%
April 1992 Green Party 0.51%
May 1997 Referendum Party 2.59%
June 2001 UK Independence Party 1.48%
May 2005 UK Independence Party 2.23%
May 2010 UK Independence Party 3.10%
May 2010 British National Party 1.90%

An asterisk indicates that a party only contested seats in Northern Ireland; a double asterisk only in Scotland and a triple asterisk only in Wales.

  • [1] There were 5 official National Federation of Discharged & Demobolised Soldiers & Sailors candidates - none of whom were elected. In addition, there were 25 Independent NFDDSS candidates who were standing, and these as a group got 0.56% of the vote. But should we count the Independent NFDDSS candidates as a "party" or a bunch of individuals? To complicate things, NFDDSS candidates (both official and unofficial) were one of the groups who stood under the "Silver Badge" banner, and one Silver Badge candidate - Robert Barker - did get elected. If we exclude Silver Badge candidates, then that leaves us with the Agriculturalist Party as the most successful party not to win any seats.
  • [2} In the 1918 election, Sinn Féin did a pretty good job of crushing the Irish Nationalists in Ireland. In 1924 there is the unique occurrence of the Irish Nationalists getting zero votes but winning a seat - the reason for this was that Thomas O'Connor, the sole Irish Nationalist candidate, was re-elected unopposed in Liverpool Scotland.
  • [3] The Ulster Unionist Party had effectively split by this stage, with the group oppoesed to the Sunningdale Agreement fighting in a pact with the Democratic Unionist Party and the Vanguard Unionist Progressive Party. The PAUU group contained two sitting UUP MPs seeking re-election (Stanley McMaster in Belfast East and Rafton Pounder in Belfast South). It is important to note that the DUP and VUPP won seats despite having fewer votes than the PAUU group.

The last point brings me on to something - only in 1945, 1951, 1955 and 1964 did the listed party got fewer votes than every party that did win seats. But in 1906, both 1910, 1931 and 1959, there were Independents who got fewer votes but won seats.

This might be understandable. After all, we are a constituency-based system, and one of the strengths of First Past The Post (which would have continued to be a strength if we had voted in May 2011 to switch to the Alternative Vote) is that a party can get representation by contesting a small number of seats, or that an Independent can win a constituency - unlike list systems of Proportional Representation.

And we also have to ask what is the difference - apart from the name - between an Independent and a one-person band, such as the Scottish Prohibition Party (in 1922, 1923 and 1924), Constitutionalist (in 1922), Christian Pacifist (in 1924), Republican Labour (in 1966 and 1970), Ulster Popular [sic] Unionist Party (in 1983, 1987 and 1992), UK Unionist Party (in 1997) and in this century, Kidderminster Hospital & Health Concern winning Wyre Forest in 2001 and 2005, or People's Voice for Blaenau Gwent winning Blaenau Gwent in 2005?

And until recently, these biggest losers were parties who contested a small handful of seats. You have to wait until the second 1974 election to have the National Front being the first biggest loser to contest a significant number of seats.

We now have a new phenomena, dating back to 1997 (or maybe 1992) - that of the national party which gets over 0.5% of the vote but fails to be elected; something that would sound odd a century ago.

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