Parliamentary Arithmetic for Dummies (Tory majority is a bit less slim than it looks)

How big is the Tory majority? Most media commentary keeps getting the real number wrong, and here’s why.

The full results are as follows:

331 Cons

232 Lab

56 SNP

8 Lib Dem


4 SF

11 Others

650 Total

So on these numbers it looks like there are 331 Tories versus 319 “others” – a majority of 12 in a straight vote? No.

The 331 ‘Tories’ include the Speaker (John Bercow) and another Tory who will be elected as one of his deputies.

The 232 Labour includes 2 who will be elected as deputy speakers.

None of the above four vote, so that reduces the Tories to 329 and Labour to 230, and the number of voting MPs to 646.

The 4 Sinn Fein MPs also don’t vote, reducing the number of voting MPs to 642.

So of voting MPs there are 329 Tory MPs and 313 ‘others’ – so their real majority is 16.

So that is 8 by-elections in Tory seats they can lose before they forfeit their majority. There were 21 by-elections during the last Parliament, but if you are a Tory opponent don’t get excited – most of them were in opposition seats (see here). So it is quite likely the Tory majority will, arithmetically at least, hold throughout the Parliament.



The Election may be over, but the fun isn’t.

So what will happen in Britain over the next five years?

If you believed some of the media and Tory triumphalism today you would think they had won a landslide like Tony Blair’s in 1997. They haven’t, and they are probably in for a very bumpy ride indeed. They have had five years of a Coalition with a healthy majority and that had plenty of shunts along the way. Five years of a tiny majority will be that much harder. How long before the Fixed Term Parliaments Act starts getting dusted off and discussed again? Continue reading

So it begins: Last time it was Five Days in May – this time it could be Five Weeks (or more)

It could easily be 5 weeks before we have a settled Government. It might not be, the polls might be wrong or there could be last minute surge in one direction or another, but they could be right.

If the polls are right we are possibly in for a long period of uncertainty before we have a settled Government.

Here’s one of many possible scenarios – you can judge how likely it is: Continue reading

We need a new language for our new multiparty politics – for example, the Left has almost certainly won this General Election.

Media discussion of the General Election is still couched firmly in two-party language – have the Tories or Labour ‘won’. This is very misleading in our new multi-party politics and we need to start thinking about using different language to talk about who has won and lost.

On the continent, where multi-party politics is the norm, discussion of who won and lost is more often framed in the language of ‘left’ and ‘right’, and then of which parties have gained or lost within each ‘camp’. These camps are lose categories, but useful for thinking about how popular opinion and the outturn in seats has gone. Continue reading

Why can’t our national broadcaster get simple stuff right?


The BBC has been consistently speculating on who can put together a majority after May 7th using a misleading number: 326.

They get to this number of a ‘majority’ government/coalition/deal by simply dividing the number of MPs – 650 – by two, and adding 1 for a majority = 326.

But they must know this is simply wrong.

First, the Speaker, and his/her three deputies all don’t vote – the effective number of voting MPs is immediately reduced to 646, not 650.

Second, Sinn Fein MPs don’t even take their seats, much less vote and there are currently 5 of them and probably will be in the next Parliament. So the number of voting MPs is reduced to 641.

That means the real number of a voting majority is 321, not 326.

Please get it right Auntie Beeb.

[PS – ironically writing this quickly on an iPad led to some initial spelling snafu’s – but at least mine were unintentional – can’t believe the BBC don’t know their number is wrong so why are they doing it?]