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By Dick Leonard, Roger Mortimore

How do British elections paintings? Dick Leonard, a political journalist and previous MP, and Roger Mortimore, an opinion pollster, hide all elements of British elections during this up-to-date version of the traditional paintings, together with finished tables of records and effects.

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Conversely, in the February 1974 election, the Labour Party won five more seats than the Conservatives, even though it polled 225,789 fewer votes, and was able to form a minority government. While detailed criticisms can be made of the recommendations and procedures of the Boundary Commissions, in general the difficult problem of delineating constituencies appears to have been solved more satisfactorily in Britain than in many other countries, and serious accusations of gerrymandering are almost unknown.

There are thus fewer marginal seats which are liable to change hands at general elections. 13 (For definition of ‘swing’ see p. ) The other well-known consequence of the ‘first past the post’ system is that smaller parties tend to be seriously under-represented, especially those like the Liberal Democrats whose support is evenly spread across the whole country rather than being concentrated in geographical clusters (like the Scottish and Welsh Nationalists and the Northern Ireland parties). 3, which shows the proportion of votes and seats won by the three main parties since 1945, indicates the extent to which the Liberal Democrats and their predecessors have suffered.

The method of election within each constituency is the simplest yet devised. Each voter has one vote which is recorded by marking an ‘X’ against the candidate of his or her choice on the ballot paper. The candidate who polls the largest number of votes in the constituency is elected, even if supported by only a minority of the voters. Where three or more candidates are in the field this is of course a common occurrence, and in the 2001 general election no fewer than 337 out of 659 members were elected with a minority vote.

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