Biggest-ever gap between number of votes and MPs hits Reform and Greens

A graphic showing head and shoulders photos of the Green Party's Carla Denyer and Reform UK's Nigel Farage against a background of the BBC's election branding
The Greens' Carla Denyer and Reform's Nigel Farage - both parties have seen a far higher share of vote than seats won in Parliament [BBC]

The gap between the share of total votes won by the winning party in the 2024 general election and the share of Parliamentary seats won is the largest on record, BBC Verify has found.

This disparity has prompted renewed calls for reform of the electoral system, with Richard Tice of Reform UK complaining on BBC Radio 4's Today programme on Friday of the “injustice” that his party had received millions of votes but only five seats in Parliament.

He said: “That is blatantly not a properly functioning democratic system - that is a flawed system. The demands for change will grow and grow.”

The Green Party’s co-leader Adrian Ramsay said he wanted to see a “fairer system” to ensure that “every vote counts equally”.

The Electoral Reform Society claimed it was “the most disproportional in British electoral history”.

The UK’s first-past-the-post system has a tendency to generate disproportionate results compared with systems in some other countries. So are these latest complaints justified?

Reform’s roughly four million votes translates into a 14% share of the total votes cast in the election, but only 1% of all the seats in the House of Commons.

By contrast, Labour won 34% of total votes cast, but about 64% of the 650 seats.

Bar charts showing a comparison between the vote share of political parties and their seat share, with Labour on 34% of the vote but 64% of seats, Reform UK on 14% of the vote and 1% of seats, the Lib Dems on 12% of the vote and 11% of seats and the Green parties on 7% of the vote and 1% of the seats

The Green Party also had a considerably larger vote share than seat share, with 7% of the total vote but, like Reform, about 1% of total seats, or four MPs.

Meanwhile the Liberal Democrats, who have often in previous elections had a larger vote share than seat share, this time saw the two come out roughly equal.

Sir Ed Davey’s party won 12% of total votes cast and 11% of seats in Parliament.

BBC Verify has examined the vote shares of major parties in all elections going back to 1918 and also the share of total Parliamentary seats won by the party with the most seats.

On this measure Labour’s result in 2024 - with the gap between the share of votes won and the share of seats won of around 30 percentage points - is the most disproportionate on record.

Graph showing the gap between the share of the votes and the share of the seats from 1922 to 2024, showing that 2024 has the highest gap at 30 percentage points, with the next highest being about 24% in the 1930s.

The second most disproportionate election result on this metric was 2001, when Tony Blair’s Labour party won 41% of votes but 63% of total seats - a gap of 22 percentage points.

However, it’s important to note that political parties have to campaign within the voting system as it is.

First-past-the-post means the person with the largest number of votes in each constituency gets elected and candidates from other parties get nothing for their votes in that area.

Labour grandee Lord Mandelson told the BBC on Friday morning that his party had put its campaigning resources into certain seats in order to maximise its chances of winning a large number of seats, rather than boosting its overall vote share.

A purely proportional system - where national vote share translated exactly into the number of seats - in 2024 would have given Labour about 195 seats and no majority. The Tories would have had 156 seats, Reform 91, the Liberal Democrats 78 and the Greens 45.

However, it’s also important to recognise that voters might well vote differently if the voting system was more proportional.

Alternative vote system rejected

The UK held a national referendum on reform of the voting system in 2011 after the 2010 election delivered a hung parliament and the Conservatives entered a formal coalition with the Liberal Democrats.

The proposal to replace the current first-past-the post system with an “Alternative Vote”, which advocates said would make results more proportional to the national share of votes cast, was rejected by the public, by 68% to 32%.

The referendum was the price exacted by the Lib Dems for entering coalition with the Conservatives.

Despite his party doing better under the current system than in previous elections, the Lib Dem leader Sir Ed said on Friday morning that he felt the British political system was “still broken” and would continue to support electoral reform.

Though this is the most extreme difference between vote and seat shares seen across the whole of the UK and in England for over a century, other nations of the UK have seen more extreme cases in recent history.

In the 2015 general election, the Scottish National Party took half of the votes and 95% of the seats in Scotland - a gap of 45 points between the vote and seat share.

The highest gap recorded in Wales was in the 2001 general election when Labour won just under half of the votes and 85% of Welsh seats in Westminster.

The Electoral Reform Society used more complex statistical scoring systems to compare the 2024 election result to others in UK history, but also concluded it was the most disproportionate on record.

Additional reporting by Robert Cuffe and the data journalism team.