Electoral system weighted against Tories more than ever

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The Independent Online
The electoral system is now more biased against the Conservative Party than ever, according to research to be published today which will increase the pressure on the Tories to consider electoral reform.

"The Tories have at least got to get on the inside of the debate about changing the voting system," according to John Curtice of the University of Strathclyde.

His analysis of the Labour landslide in May suggests that, if the result were reversed, with the Tories winning 44.4 per cent of the votes and Labour 31.5 per cent, the Tories would have a majority of only 45 seats, whereas Tony Blair won with a majority of 179.

What is more, if at the next election William Hague achieves a record swing back to the Tories to give both parties equal shares of the vote, Mr Blair would stay in power with a majority of 16 seats.

This unprecedented bias in Labour's favour is despite new boundaries intended to compensate for the drift from Labour inner cities to Tory suburbs. The boundaries review reduced, but did not eliminate, the pro- Labour bias. But Mr Curtice's analysis identifies two powerful additional factors working against the Tories.

It shows that turnout was, on average, 6 percentage points higher in Tory seats than Labour ones, piling up Tory votes where they were least needed. On the other hand, tactical voting by Labour, Liberal Democrat and Scottish Nationalist voters maximised opposition parties' gains.

Mr Curtice's projections assumes that these voting patterns will repeat themselves at the next election, whereas the Conservatives must hope that they were a blip caused by the massive unpopularity of John Major's government. Mr Curtice said the "$64,000 question" was to what extent tactical voting would be reversed next time. But there are several factors which suggest that much of the pro-Labour bias will continue, including the closeness of Labour and the Lib Dems on policy, and the effectiveness of Lib Dem targeting.

The findings will fuel the debate about electoral systems in advance of Mr Blair's appointment of a cross-party commission which will discuss details of a change to be put to a referendum before the next election.