Proportional Representation Makes a Difference: London City Council Elections, May 4, 2000
The British government created a new London city council more than a decade after the old "Greater London Council" was abolished under Margaret Thatcher. The first elections to the council -- along with the separately-elected mayor -- were on May 4, 2000. As in the first regional elections in Scotland and Wales last year, a "mixed member" proportional representation system was used.
There were 14 city council seats elected from one-seat constituencies that are, by definition, "winner-take-all." To correct any distortions in those elections, however, there were 11 seats elected from party lists to make the 25-member city council reflect the party vote. Voters cast two ballots: one for a local representative who they most wanted to represent their local interest and the other for their party of choice, which could be different from the party of the candidate they support locally.
The results were a remarkable demonstration of the power of proportional representation to provide fuller, fairer representation. Here is a simple chart showing the results in the party vote and seats won in the district vote, the party vote and overall.
Note the following key facts:
* Of the 14 district seats, the Conservative Party won 8 seats despite its district candidates winning only 33% of the district votes, while the Labour party won the remaining 6 seats with 32% of the vote. Thus, in a traditional district-only election, the Conservatives would have won a full majority with only 33% of votes cast and the two major parties would have won all seats with less than two-thirds of votes cast..
* The party vote (remember that voters had two votes - -one for a local race and the second for a party) generally mirrored the vote in the districts, including that for small parties like the Green party. Here, the Labour party won 30% and the Conservatives 29%. The other two parties above the 5% threshold required to win seats were the Greens (with 11%) and the Liberal Democrats (with 15%).
* The 11 "top up" seats from party lists largely went to the small parties, as they had been shut out in the district seats. Labour ended up with three more seats and the Conservatives with one more, so that each had 9 seats overall. The Liberal Democrats won 4 seats and the Greens 3.
* Proportional representation was absolutely essential for the Green party to win any seats, as Green candidates never finished better than 3rd in the district seats. The Liberal Democrats also did not win any district seats and only finished 2nd in four of 14 races.
* Without proportional representation, more than a third of voters would not have elected a candidate of choice. With proportional representation, at least 85% of voters elected a candidate.