How Euro seat allocation works

THE system for allocating seats in the party list proportional representation elections used for choosing Euro MPs was devised by Belgian mathematician Victor d'Hondt.

By Graham Dines

THE system for allocating seats in the party list proportional representation elections used for choosing Euro MPs was devised by Belgian mathematician Victor d'Hondt.

European elections must be conducted across all 25 countries under a common system - as proportional representation is favoured by all our EU partners, the UK fell in line in 1999.

Although there are a number of variations of PR, Labour's then Home Secretary Jack Straw opted for the closed list system with the seats allocated under the d'Hondt formula.

It is used in Austria, Finland, the Netherlands, Poland, Spain and the United Kingdom but has one huge weakness - it disproportionately favours the party winning the most number of votes. In the East of England, that is likely to be the Conservatives

The political parties choose their candidates and place them in ranking order - those they want elected most are put at the top of the list.

Most Read

Critics of the system argue that British voters, unused to PR, have no recognition of the candidates and are even less inclined to vote than in normal first-past-the-post elections.

The formula for the quotient is V/(s+1), where V is the total number of votes that list receives and s is the number of seats that party has been allocated in the count so far (initially 0 for all parties).

Let's assume that 1.135million people across the six counties vote on June 10, which is a turnout of 27.43% and that the minor parties between them poll 80,000.

Of the remaining 1.055 million, the Conservatives poll 380,000, UKIP takes 195,000, Labour 191,000, Lib Dems 189,000 and Martin Bell 100,000.

The Tories would win the first seat, and their total is divided by two - 380,000/1+1 - giving them 190,000. That is 5,000 less than UKIP which takes the second seat and then UKIP's total is divided by two, giving it 97,500.

Labour at 191,000 takes the third seat, but the Tories' divided total is 1,000 more than the Lib Dems, so the Conservatives win the fourth seat and the Lib Dems the fifth.

With two seats left, the divided totals give the Conservatives 126,666 (380,000/2+1), Martin Bell 100,000, UKIP 97,500 (195,000/1+1), Labour 95,500 (191,000/1+1) and the Lib Dems 89,500 (189,000/1+1).

Therefore the Tories win the sixth seat and Martin Bell the seventh, making in our totally mythical result: Conservatives three, UKIP 1, Labour 1, Lib Dems 1 and Martin Bell 1.

Thus the Tories, with less than twice the number of votes of the next largest party, win three times the number of seats as its nearest rival.

In 1999, when the East of England was entitled to eight seats instead of seven, the outcome of the election was four Tory, two Labour, one Liberal Democrat and one UKIP.

Jeffrey Titford of UKIP squeaked home - if he had polled 1,260 fewer and the Tories 1,260 more, the Tories would have won his seat giving them a hugely disproportionate total of five.

A review of the system the UK has adopted will take place before the next election and it could be replaced by open lists - giving the voters the right to choose any seven candidates.

If that was in operation now, it's almost guaranteed that Independent Martin Bell, with arguably the most recognition factor, would come near to topping the poll.

Become a Supporter

This newspaper has been a central part of community life for many years. Our industry faces testing times, which is why we're asking for your support. Every contribution will help us continue to produce local journalism that makes a measurable difference to our community.

Become a Supporter