The 2015 parliamentary and district elections in Hertsmere were reported under the headline ‘Tories triumph’ (Borehamwood & Elstree Times, May 15). While it is true that the Tory party won the largest single share of the votes cast, the overall pattern of voting was more complex and revealed once again the distorting effects of an antiquated winner-takes-all electoral system. This system is often referred to as ‘first past the post’, but this term is misleading because unlike a horse race, there is no fixed winning post which has to be passed.

In the parliamentary election, 29,696 votes were cast for the Tory who was elected, and 20,395 for his three rivals. But in fact, only 22.4 per cent of the votes cast (ie, less than a quarter) were effective, because they were needed to achieve this result. All of the rest were wasted, in the sense that if they had not been cast, the outcome would have been no different.

These were made up of 40.7 per cent won by the candidates who were not elected, and 36.9 per cent piled up in the winner’s majority over the runner-up. So more than three out of four electors who cast ballots achieved nothing by doing so. In the Hertsmere Borough Council elections, held simultaneously, the distorting effects of the electoral system were amply illustrated once again. The Tories were awarded 37 out of the 39 seats contested, the remaining two being taken by Labour. So the composition of the council now looks like this:

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But if the seats were allocated according to the average of the votes cast for each party’s candidates in each ward, the result would be very different. With 22 seats, the Tories would have retained control. But they would be facing ten Labour councillors, three Liberal Democrats, two from UKIP and two Independents (see chart below).

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Part of the distortion in the council result stems from the fact that when seats in multi-member wards are contested simultaneously rather than by rotation, the element of bias inherent in the voting system is exaggerated. Of course, the Tories who introduced this arrangement in Hertsmere for the first time this year knew exactly what they were doing and why, and to a party whose sole purpose is to win and hold power in the interests of the ruling class whose privileges it exists to perpetuate, considerations of ‘fairness’ are of no consequence.

What is more difficult to understand is why, despite warnings sounded in your columns at the time this change was proposed, the other parties made little or no effort to mobilise public opposition to it. They have now paid the price for their inertia, and will continue to do so in elections to come.

John Cartledge

Haddon Close, Borehamwood