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The BGS Blog

The big BGS election 2024

Charlie Pearson, Head of History & Politics at Bristol Grammar School wrote the following blog for HMC, to share how BGS plans a mock election, using different voting systems & counting methods to help pupils learn the UK's electoral process & giving insights into election methods.

Read it below to find out more about how he is using this Friday's vote (our election is being help on Friday 28 June) to help illustrate to pupils at BGS how different voting systems can affect election outcomes.

Rishi Sunak’s 22 May snap election announcement, robbing me of my chance to plan the Bristol Grammar School mock election (which would have included the presence of the Y11s and U6s) in meticulous detail over the summer, was a shock but nevertheless a much-needed spur to action!

Alongside giving the student body the chance to enjoy themselves both participating in and watching campaigning, canvassing and hustings etc, I also think the calling of a general election is a wonderful opportunity for them actually to scrutinise the weirdly fascinating (and for some highly questionable) process by which we choose our governments in the UK. Standard school mock elections (many of which I have organised) do not really do this justice. They run the election as a single constituency, or presidential, election in which one candidate simply outmanoeuvres the others by attracting the most votes through being more charismatic/popular/attached to the “correct” party etc. This really misses the central point of a general election – it is not about votes, it is about parliamentary seats. Votes, for anyone in the know, do not in any sensible way correlate to seats won by a party.

And this is something we hope really to get across in our mock election this year, which will involve the use of, not one, but two voting systems and not two, but three, methods of translating the number of votes won by each party into seats:

Electoral System #1 – Tutor Group “Constituency” Vote

This one is all in the title essentially. All students (and their tutors) will vote in one of 60 tutor groups (with a Microsoft Forms-based “postal vote” for Upper 6th and Year 11 groups). The names on the ballot will be the leader of each party-based campaign across the school (Conservative, Labour, Lib Dem, Green and Reform UK) and a cross will be put next to the candidate preferred by each tutee.

Electoral System #2 – House-based “Regional” Party Vote:

On this second ballot paper will be the list of parties. Students will vote in one of the school’s six houses, each of which will return 8 further seats (i.e. 48 to add to the original 60 tutor group seats). The purpose of this, as shall be seen, will be to “correct” the biases of the first-past-the-post system (as used in UK general elections) by weighting the house count in favour of the candidates who have been left underrepresented in the tutor group vote.

Count #1 – First-Past-The-Post, simple:

This will be a simple first-past-the-post count based on the number of constituencies won by each party. This might result in one party gaining more than 30 of the tutor group constituencies and their leader being in a position where the party leader can ask the Head if they are able to form a Government OR, perhaps more likely, in two or more party leaders having to negotiate a policy platform on which to ask to form a government. Either way, the link between “getting across the line” in enough constituencies and having the right to form the government will be more firmly established in students’ heads.

Count #2 – First-Past-The-Post, “weighted”:

Of course, without the cultural/historical context of the UK’s history of being a (traditionally) two-party democracy with Conservative and Labour-dominated funding, campaigning and tactical voting, the school seat share will most likely lack some of the more eye-wateringly disproportionate elements of your average general election. For this reason the 60 seats counted above using first-past-the-post will be recalculated according to the percentage seats:votes ratio at the 2019 general election. For each party this will involve multiplying the percentage of the 60 seats they actually receive in the following way: Conservatives (56.2% seats:43.6% votes) – × 1.29; Labour (31.1%:32.1%) – × 0.97; Lib Dems (1.7%:11.5%) – × 0.15; Greens (0.2%:2.7%) – × 0.07; Reform, as successor to the Brexit Party, (0%:2.0%) – × 0 (which, of course, means 0 seats whatever percentage of the vote they get!).

Although this might not end up filling all 60 seats, the glaring mathematical injustice of this will not be lost on students!

Count #3 – Additional Member System (AMS):

Using the d’Hondt formula (number of house-based “regional” votes ÷ number of seats already won + 1) on a round-by-round basis to calculate the remaining 48 house seats to be added to the 60 already allotted in Count #1. This should bring the number of the 108 overall seats allotted to each party much more closely in line with the number of votes they have actually achieved – hopefully a valuable insight into the possibilities of proportional representational (PR) voting and the systems actually used to elect the legislatures of countries like Germany, New Zealand, Scotland and Wales.

I hope the pupils will find the mock election fun and engaging and will takeaway key learnings in this democratic experiment. For me, how we elect our governments and politicians is something which is not thought about enough. As I concluded in a recent assembly linking the 80th anniversary commemoration of D-day to our mock election: the veterans fought to rid Europe of unthinking dictatorship; we owe to them now to use our freedoms to scrutinise and challenge unthinking democracy.