The Socialist Unity Network

How the PR elections work

And what it means for the left

Compiled by Andy Newman

Some bold claims are being made for RESPECT's prospects in the Euro elections, for example in Cairo on 13th December George Galloway announced that Blair would be swept from power! The SWP continues to hint that winning seats is a possibility in June. John Rees writes in Socialist Worker on 27th March: "a constituency might currently have four Labour MEPs. If Respect were to take a quarter of Labour's votes away in the 10 June election, there would be three Labour MEPs and one Respect MEP."

We need a more sober assessment of RESPECT's electoral prospects for the Euro and GLA elections.

These elections use the complex d'Hondt version of Proportional Representation. This works by having multiple seats per constituency, where each seat is filled in turn on a first past the post basis and then the winner's vote is adjusted downwards before entering the next round. This means that the front runner amongst the minor parties has a reasonable chance of winning a seat. For example, if RESPECT takes votes from Labour and the Lib Dems in the South West this will increase the chances of the Greens winning a seat there, where they had their highest vote in 1999, but didn't win.

Based upon the votes of the 1999 elections and taking into account a reduction in number of seats, RESPECT would need 9% or 10% to win a Euro seat in London and must also beat the Greens. However well or badly RESPECT performs the Greens are likely to lose their existing London MEP unless they can raise their game (7.67% last time.)

The London Assembly (GLA) elections are more complicated, as explained in a very clear article in the March edition of Searchlight. Any party getting 5% across London in the GLA elections is guaranteed a seat. 8% could mean two seats.

In the North West RESPECT would need to get between 8% and 12% to win, (depending on how vote split between major parties - ironically an increased Lib Dem vote in the NW would favour a 4th party). However RESPECT must also get more votes than the BNP and UKIP! The figures are similar for the West Midlands,

This analysis shows that for RESPECT to win European seats would require both luck and a much higher vote than the Socialist Alliance has ever achieved. Given the huge size of the constituencies, the vote would need to significantly exceed the 2003 regional list results of the Scottish Socialist Party, who received spectacular votes of 15.2% in Glasgow and 11.3% in Central Scotland, elsewhere securing roughly 5% of the votes. Therefore RESPECT would need to better in 3 months what the SSP has built up over years. Even the more modest ambition of winning a seat in the London Assembly requires more than trebling the vote achieved by the Socialist Alliance in 2000 (total vote: 27,073 - Full GLA results can be by clicking here)

So how likely is this large vote for RESPECT? This requires the anti-war mood to translate into votes for RESPECT, rather then the competing options of the Greens, Lib Dems or simple abstention. The celebrity status of George Galloway and backing from some prominent Islamic figures may or may not deliver votes. RESPECT has, in London at least, an impressive slate of candidates. However, the candidates in other constituencies are generally not household names, although they may be excellent activists in their own communities.

Furthermore, the impact of the war on Labour's vote may be exaggerated, and polling organisations are predicting that it will result in a modest 2% swing from Labour to the Lib Dems. Recent council by-election results do not indicate that alternative parties are poised for a breakthrough.

RESPECT has little voter recognition (particularly having opted not to use the clearly recognisable word "socialist" in the name), and its campaign is likely to be ignored by the mainstream press. More intangibly, although RESPECT should be supported in these elections, the manner of its launch and the impact upon the Socialist Alliance have left a legacy of distrust amongst many activists that will take time to heal. This cannot simply be wished away and because RESPECT will rely upon grassroots activists to spread the word this may have an impact on the campaign.

Without a crystal ball it is impossible to be certain how the elections will go. In most Euro constituencies it would be an outstanding achievement to reach 2.5% and retain the 5000 deposit. For a party fighting its first election a result of between 1% and 2% seems realistic. In London, winning a GLA seat is not impossible but looks unlikely.

It is important to have this realistic assessment in mind. Otherwise there is a danger that the actual results on 10th June may cause disillusionment if they fail to live up to exaggerated expectations.


March 2004