There’s a very interesting revelation in Sky election expert Michael Thrasher’s analysis of last week’s election results. He notes the fact that Sky’s calculation of gains and losses was very different to the BBC’s: a question of how they both chose to handle boundary and allegiance changes. (An ugly consequence of the UK’s ever-changing geography, but that’s for another time.)
What intrigued me most was his revelation that the national media organisations have all agreed a common method for handling these calculations at the next general election, where similar boundary changes will also apply.
The national broadcast organisations, BBC, ITN and Sky, together with the Press Association, have agreed a set of estimated results for the 2005 election in newly created constituencies that sit alongside the real ones for constituencies whose boundaries are unchanged. The calculation of each party’s gains and losses are based on these agreed figures. Furthermore, the figures will take no account of any by-election changes or changes of party allegiance by individual MPs in the meantime.
In my mind, that effectively endorses ‘presidential politics’. You aren’t voting for an MP, you’re voting for a PM. It doesn’t matter if that MP changes allegiance; and by-elections can’t be taken seriously. The only count that counts is a general election.
Sadly, as often happens in statistics, there’s no right and wrong answer. You could very justifiably argue that it’s always better to compare like with like. You could equally argue that we already have presidential politics by default anyway. And that turnout at general elections is generally higher than by-elections, making them a more valid measure. All of which would make this decision the right one. So I’m not arguing with that.
It just seems a bit odd to see a formal institutional recognition that ultimately your choice of MP, whoever he/she is, and whatever happens to him/her do post-general election, is meaningless. So perhaps the only way forward for UK democracy is to recognise the presidential aspect, and separate the executive from the legislative. Yeah, like that’ll happen.