One doesn't have to be a political analyst with long experience or even an avid poll watcher to parse out this year's election outcomes. Not with headlines screaming 'Bloodbath!' and 'Landslide!' and 'What Will Boris Do Now?'.

Nor would it take a lot to understand the reasons voters decided the way they did. The trauma of COVID and the fury over Partygate, fears over climate change, tumbling wages and a housing market increasingly inaccessible to the majority of people, shoddy handling of Ukrainian refugees and further erosion of immigrants' rights and protections...

Voters all over the UK have plenty to be angry about - not the least of which is the ongoing fallout from Brexit. They let their ire be known via the ballot box.

What's a bit harder to understand is the mechanics of election - how they're conducted, which systems of votes is used in a given region (and why), how those votes are tallied and how the winner is declared.

UK's five electoral systems:
Single-member plurality (also called first-past-the-post): most of England and Wales
Multi-member plurality (also called Block Voting or BV): all of the London boroughs and select parts of England
Single transferable vote: Northern Ireland and Scotland
Supplementary vote: used only for the London mayoral elections
Additional member system: strictly for Assembly elections

Obviously, the winner is declared by virtue of having the most votes but, as you can see in the table above, across the UK and even throughout England, different voting systems are used.

Before we look at the overall results of England's elections, let's understand these voting systems, break them down by region and see what was up for grabs during this election cycle.

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The Different Voting Systems

One reason that so many different voting systems are in place across the UK is to better reflect the voting public's wishes. For instance, in sparsely-populated areas, it makes more sense to use a ranked-choice voting system because it would be unlikely for any candidate to gain a majority of the vote across multiple parties.

That just goes to show that, while it seems like madness that there is no uniform voting system in use across the UK - or, for that matter, in individual locales, the systems in place offer the greatest degree of chance for the voters' will to come into force.

So, let's examine each of these systems, analyse their benefits and see where they're exercised.

Around the world, voter apathy plagues democracies.
Voter apathy is a growing concern in democracies around the world. Photo by Manny Becerra on Unsplash

First-Past-the-Post

Formally called plurality voting, this system represents the winner-take-all strategy that most of us think of when it comes to elections. It is typically used in districts represented by a single officeholder. Unlike ranked-choice voting, citizens may only choose one candidate from all of those listed on the ballot. If their chosen candidate doesn't receive a majority of the vote, they do not win the election.

This popular voting system delivers several disadvantages. For example, if you don't like any of the candidates on the ballot, you'll likely vote for the one you believe will do the least harm. It also encourages voting along party lines and tactical voting - casting a ballot for a candidate who is unlikely to win, simply because voters do not wish to support any majority party.

On the plus side, such ballots are relatively easy to tally, allowing faster election results.

Block Voting

Unlike the just-described system of voting, this type of vote entails voting for the entire party - everyone on the ballot who is listed Tory, for example, or Independent, or Labour... and so on.

That doesn't mean you don't get to vote for specific candidates. You might vote for a couple of Democrats and someone from the Green Party. And then, when the votes are tallied, the party that has the most votes sweeps the election. This voting system is considered non-representational because it does not result in a blend of parties in government.

Lack of representation is this system's biggest drawback. The biggest advantage is that the group voted in all operate under the same agenda, meaning there is less time wasted on infighting and bickering over policy issues.

Single Transferable Vote

Voting according to both of the above systems risks constituents wasting their vote, because they might have cast it for the individual or party that did not win. The single transferable vote eliminates that waste.

Each ballot lists every candidate from every party. Instead of just ticking the box for the candidate(s) of their choice, voters enter a number by each candidate's name that represents their first, second, third (and so on) choices. That way, even if their preferred candidate does not win the election, their vote still counts to help elect their most-preferred candidates down the line.

Inclusion is the obvious benefit of this voting system but the votes are very difficult and time-consuming to tally. Still, of all the voting systems covered so far, this one promises the greatest degree of representation. It also permits the greatest diversity of political parties in power.

Supplementary Vote

You might call this system 'ranked-choice lite' because it calls for voters to choose only first- and second-choice candidates instead of ranking all of the ballots' candidates. This voting system sees only limited use; in the UK, it's restricted to voting for London's mayor.

Additional Member Vote

This voting system calls for voters to make two choices. One for their single-seat constituency representative and one for their choice of political party. Typically, in the UK, this system is only used for Assembly votes though, elsewhere in the world, it sees much wider usage.

Now, find out how all of these voting systems play out across this year's election analysis.

You can learn which voting system applies to your district from many different outlets
Details on which voting system applies to your districts are usually communicated via many outlets. Photo by Elliott Stallion on Unsplash

Councils, Boroughs and Authorities

As government operates on many levels, it makes sense that there would be periodic elections at every level - from the relatively low-key council elections to national and UK-wide elections.

County council elections are held every four years. Metropolitan boroughs have a more complex election calendar; each four-year cycle is broken into 1/3 of the boroughs voting once each year and no voting in the fourth year. London boroughs took a different tack this year; all 25 boroughs voted due to updated boundary reviews.

Authorities are a tricky category to define, as the government currently has a motion in Parliament to turn all of the councils into unitary authorities. Essentially, this change reflects the switch to a more evolved form of government, to better meet the needs of their constituencies.

Will the switch to unitary authorities change how often there will be elections in the UK?

Where There Was No Election

Due to the four-year election cycle mentioned above, some regions in England weren't scheduled to hold elections this year. Indeed, large swaths of England weren't compelled to the polls, making the list of where elections were held much shorter.

  • All of London's 32 boroughs
  • All-counsellor elections were held in Birmingham, Rochdale, St Helen's a Bury
  • 1/3 counsellor elections were held in 29 metropolitan boroughs, including Manchester, Leeds, Stockport and Wolverhampton
  • 5 district councils held all-counsellor elections: Gosport, Newcastle-under-Lyme, St Albans, South Cambridgeshire and Huntingdonshire
  • 6 district councils held 'halves' elections, including, Oxford, Adur and Hastings
  • 16 unitary authority regions held 1/3 elections; Plymouth, Southampton and Derby among them
  • 5 unitary authority councils held 'all counsellor' votes

This list still looks expansive but, to see it on a map, you'd find that most of the voting took place in northern England, with London leading in the south and a total of 233 seats decided in the country's southeast.

These results of this year's elections, though the voting map appears scattered, were far more dramatic than what happened in the 2021 elections.

England's voting map shows small pockets of voting in this cycle.
England's election map shows that more of the country didn't have a vote in this election cycle. Source: Wikipedia Credit: Ralbegen

Results of England's Elections

Those headlines blaring 'slaughter' weren't too wide the mark. Tories (Conservatives) suffered a net loss of 487 seats; a total of 1400 counsellors were voted out. Furthermore, they lost control of 11 councils.

The papers did mislead a bit, perhaps in an attempt to highlight the eternal struggle between Tories and Labour. A worthy clash, to be sure, but the biggest winners of this election cycle were, by far, the Liberal Democrats. They picked up 222 council seats to Labour's 108 but, then again, as Labour was adding to their already substantial presence, they still come out ahead in the total number of councillors: 3073 to the Democrats' 868.

Labour and Democrats each picked up five new councils,

In fact, all across England, even minority parties such as the Green party and Aspire gained seats. The only two parties showing negative numbers are the Conservatives (338 in England alone) and UKIP. In an odd twist, the group is formerly known as The Brexit Party, now Reform UK - a Eurosceptic party akin to UKIP, picked up two seats, not quite balancing out UKIP's three-seat loss.

By far the biggest shock was London; specifically, the boroughs of Westminster, Wandsworth and West Oxfordshire.

For the 2018 elections, Labour had set their sights on claiming those boroughs for their party but lacked the votes. This year, there was no question that Tory had lost those bastions of conservatism. Labour also wrested away from the borough of Barnet, another district they had aimed to claim, but failed to, in the last election.

Keep in mind this is just an analysis of England's voting results. Welsh, Scottish and North Irish constituencies also voted and delivered astounding returns. You should study our complete overview of the 2022 UK elections.

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Sophia

A vagabond traveler whose first love is the written word, I advocate for continuous learning, cycling, and the joy only a beloved pet can bring. There is plenty else I am passionate about, but those three should do it, for now.