What would Liverpool’s general elections look like under proportional representation?

Dr David Jeffery
7 min readJan 31, 2021

This is part 2 of my blog series on voting behaviour in Liverpool. In this post I’ll be looking at how Liverpool might vote in general elections compared to how it currently votes.

My post on Liverpool’s local elections under different voting systems (available here) showed that the first past the post electoral system gives Labour an artificial majority on the city council — this shouldn’t be surprising to anyone with more than a passing knowledge of how voting systems work.

Under pretty much any other voting system the Greens and the Liberal Democrats would improve their seat share and in some instances, the Conservatives would also make a showing. But will this be the case for general elections?


To recap: I’d ask people in Liverpool how they’d vote in under different electoral systems. Hypothetical surveys are not perfect by any means — people take time to unlearn habits formed under FPTP, and parties would campaign in different ways — but it’s a good starting point for understanding the city’s hidden electoral dynamics.

The response rate — shown in the image below — isn’t too bad. Anyway, I did this for free. I had no money. What more do you want from me?

Number of respondents per constituency

First Past The Post

No surprises here, but Labour win all five seats.

Alternative Vote

Again, Labour sweeps the board under the alternative vote system. If you want to see this in map form, scroll ☝🏻. In four of the five constituencies Labour won in the first round, with over 50% of the vote.

The most interesting thing we have to say here is that in the Riverside constituency there were a fair few rounds of voting as the also-rans were whittled down. The penultimate round saw Labour on 23, the Greens on 18, and the Conservatives on 7 votes. With the Conservatives eliminated, the Greens picked up 3 votes whilst Labour picked up just one — which brings to mind the old adage ‘the enemy of my enemy is my friend’ and undermines somewhat the Downsian notion that voters will rank parties based on ideological proximity.

Regardless, Labour win. Liverpool is still a one-party state. All hail comrade Joe.

Closed Party List

Now we’ve come to our first PR system, the closed party list. Under this system voters choose one party to vote for. Seats are then allocated based on the proportion of votes each party gets. Roughly speaking, if you get 50% of the vote, your party is awarded 50% of the seats.

For this system, we take the city as a whole as one big constituency with five seats up for grabs (for simplicity’s sake we include the nub of Knowsley — Halewood — included in the Garston and Halewood constituency).

Unsurprisingly, Labour dominates with 51% of the vote — but unlike first past the post, this only nets them three of the city’s five seats. The Greens and the Liberal Democrats both romp home with a seat each. The Liberal Democrats do especially well out of this — the three percentage points difference between them and the Conservatives puts them over the line for a seat, winning 20% of the representation with just 12% of the vote.

Here’s a map. Not that it matters under closed party list, but it’s nice to see some colour other than red here.

Additional Member System

AMS doesn’t really make sense when just looking at one city. If we did use AMS and the city kept its first-past-the-post constituencies, Labour would dominate yet again.

For the list proportion of AMS we’d probably be in some sort of artificial ‘North West’ region — or perhaps a more focused ‘South North West’. Or, perhaps Merseyside would form a ‘South West North West’, and Warrington and Manchester would form a ‘South East North West’ constituency. Handily, these constituency names also double up as Kardashian baby names.

Regardless, the list vote is basically the same outcome as the closed party list system — we’d send a bulk of Labour votes and some Green and Lib Dem to the regional count.

So, it’s hard to see AMS resulting in anything drastic — probably just more of the same. Labour.

Single Transferrable Vote

Here I’m being a bit sneaky — the original question was about local elections and in each ward respondents had the choice of one Conservative, Liberal Party, TUSC, and UKIP candidate, and two Labour, Green, and Liberal Democrat candidates.

Whilst typically parties do not stand a full slate of candidates under STV (see pages 7–11 of this report for why), Labour would certainly stand more than two candidates in a city-wide election. Obviously, if I were rerunning this analysis I would address this issue, but such is life.

To overcome this problem, I’ve broken Liverpool down into two and three constituencies before running the analysis. Let’s see if it makes any difference.

Two hypothetical STV constituencies for Liverpool, based on existing wards

Just to recap: like with my local election blog, I asked respondents to

imagine each ward elected all three councillors in the same year. You must rank your party candidates in order of preference — you can mix and match parties based on your own views or how you might want to see the council balanced. (Note, it is rare for parties to stand full slates of candidates, because this can be electorally damaging). If the local elections were held tomorrow, using this system, how would you rank the following party candidates to represent your local ward?

To process the STV election process, I used the R package STV.

STV with Two Seats

In this option, each Liverpool seat would return three MPs each — yes, it’s an increase on the current number of MPs but it makes this exercise much easier.

Let’s call seat 1 Liverpool North and seat 2… Liverpool South.

Liverpool North would return two Labour MPs and one Green MP.

Liverpool South would return one Green, one Labour, and one Liberal Democrat.

Note: in the context of the upcoming boundary review, and given the size of Liverpool’s electorate, the city would qualify for roughly 4.4 seats. In that case, if we re-run the same analysis but allow each seat to return 2 MPs, we get three Labour and one Green.

STV with Three Seats

In this option, each Liverpool seat would return two MPs each — the lower number of representatives per seat makes the outcome less proportionate.

Let’s call the dark brown seat Liverpool North East, the orange seat Liverpool West, and the final seat Liverpool South.

Regardless, we end up with the same composition, just by a different route:

Liverpool North East returns two Labour MPs.

Liverpool West returns a Labour MP and a Green MP.

Liverpool South returns a Labour MP and a Liberal Democrat MP (although the Greens were very close to taking this seat too, just 2 votes off in the final round of counting).


Although the results were less varied than our foray into local election results I think it’s still interesting — the narrative of Liverpool as a Labour city is strong precisely because Liverpool is a Labour city, but there is no doubt that this is somewhat artificially maintained through the use of first past the post. Pretty much any proportional system would be beneficial for the Greens and provide some hope for the Liberal Democrats — and, in both local and general elections, would end Labour’s dominance.

Of course, people’s behaviour would change if we used a proportional voting system — the obvious change would be that people voting for no-hope parties would be more likely to vote because it is more likely their party of choice could win a seat. However, it might also spur out lazy Labour voters who currently stay at home because they know their party will win — they would be more likely to turn out under the closed party list system because their vote could conceivably mean the difference between Labour winning three seats rather than two, or four seats rather than three, or — well, you get the point.

PR, and especially ranking systems like STV, would also help to calm the political atmosphere to some extent. It would be in the Liberal Democrats’ (and the Greens’) interest to reach out to Conservative voters, knowing their second or third preference votes could help them beat Labour.

See also

What would Liverpool’s local elections look like under proportional representation?



Dr David Jeffery

Lecturer in British Politics @LivUniPol. I research voting behaviour, local identities, party politics & Liverpool. Hobbies include triathlon, parkrun & pizza.