Question from a naive US citizen here: In a podcast from the BBC I heard it claimed that there are districts with a Tory representative elected with 1000 votes when the other parties (combined) had over 3000. I had expected that might be a runoff system if no candidate got a majority.

If this is indeed the way it is done, what would be needed to move to either a runoff system or some sort of proportional voting?

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  • The lack of runoffs in most US jurisdictions, like the lack of runoffs in most UK elections, is a direct descendant of the lack of runoffs in English elections.
    – phoog
    Dec 20, 2021 at 21:26
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    Not the most important of points, because the question is still totally valid, but if you could remember the podcast on which you heard that claim that would be very interesting. According to Wikipedia's list, there have only been 5 elections in the last 80 years which returned a Tory candidate with lower than 33% of the vote, and none in the last 35 years.
    – CDJB
    Dec 21, 2021 at 9:19
  • Just a note to point out that the devolved legislatures in the UK are not exclusively FPTP. Members of the Scottish Parliament and the National Assembly for Wales are elected to represent either a constituency using first-past-the-post, or a region on the additional member system. All members of the Northern Ireland Assembly are elected on the single transferable vote form of PR. - gov.uk/guidance/… Dec 21, 2021 at 11:39
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    @CDJB given the low total votes it could be the OP is talking about an election smaller than an MP's constituency. Given it's been in the news recently here's North Shropshire's 2021 Council Elections Bagley elects a Conservative on 28.8% of the 1451 votes cast. It's not the lowest percentage to get a seat, but the lowest single representative elected winner I can see.
    – Jontia
    Dec 21, 2021 at 15:08

1 Answer 1


Under the principle of Parliamentary sovereignty, a simple Act of Parliament is “all” that’s required - in practice this has proved quite tricky in the past.

Proposals for both STV (single transferable vote) and AV (alternative vote) systems were included in the Representation of the People Bill in 1918, but were removed on amendment after an extended period of deadlock between the House of Commons & the House of Lords.

A few years later, in 1930, the Representation of the People (No. 2) Bill was introduced, which would have implemented the AV system. However, the bill ran out of parliamentary time and was not returned to after the Labour Party lost the 1931 election.

Most recently, the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Act 2011 implemented the AV system for parliamentary elections if the changes were endorsed in a national referendum. However, the referendum resulted in 32.1% of voters supporting the changes, and 67.9% opposing; the changes were not made. A confirmatory referendum was not a necessary component of such a bill though, and a sufficiently determined Government could implement any alternative voting system it liked by means of an Act of Parliament.

  • I'm not sure if it's worth mentioning that politically it first and foremost requires the removal of the Conservative party from government, who are keen to restrict the use of any alternative vote systems, as per the recent legislation; gov.uk/government/news/…
    – Jontia
    Dec 21, 2021 at 13:24
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    @Jontia I take your point, but I think it goes without saying that to pass an act of parliament it needs to have sufficient support from MPs, regardless of party affiliation; recall that a resolution on PR failed at Labour's party conference this year as well - labourlist.org/2021/09/…
    – CDJB
    Dec 21, 2021 at 13:36
  • that's a good point, with Labour being out of power I'd mostly been thinking about the widespread membership backing, without keeping in mind that it had failed to pass at conference.
    – Jontia
    Dec 21, 2021 at 15:01
  • The Labour leadership certainly has a tradition of hostility to proportional representation, which Kier Starmer seems to be continuing theguardian.com/commentisfree/2021/sep/30/…
    – Stuart F
    Dec 21, 2021 at 16:56

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