Local Lib-Dem councillor Alex Feakes would have beaten Labour to take the seat of Lewisham West and Penge if the alternative voting system had operated during last year’s general election, research has revealed.
A ‘simulation’ by the Universities of Essex and Texas suggests the Lewisham constituency would have been among the three London seats to swing from Labour to the Liberal Democrats.
In the real election, Feakes, a member for Forest Hill on Lewisham Council, lost to Labour’s Jim Dowd by a comfortable 5878 votes. Dowd has since backed the AV system. Feakes unsuccessfully fought the seat’s predecessor, Lewisham West, in the 2005 election, gaining 20 per cent of the vote.
The simulation also showed that Labour would also have lost Streatham’s Chuka Umunna, a rising light of the party’s left wing often pointed out by journalists as a potential future leader.
The research, first published in the Journal of Parliamentary Affairs will only fuel ongoing debate over Britain’s adoption of the new system. In the run-up to the May 5 referendum , Conservative bloggers have already characterised the study as confirming AV’s benefits for the Lib Dems.
Voters in the 2010 election were asked to fill out mock ballots indicating how they would have voted in a comparable AV contest.
Candidates under AV are ranked in order of preference, and second and third choices are taken into account if there’s no clear majority. Lib Dems benefited in the simulation because the were often named as a second choice by both Labour and Tory supporters who found them more palatable than their party’s main rivals.
As the study notes, Lewisham’s swing (contributing to an overall 32 Lib Dem gain) would have had national significance. “This outcome would have radically changed the arithmetic of post-election coalition building,” wrote the authors, “with the Liberal Democrats being able to form a majority coalition with either Labour or the Conservatives.”
Sydenham Labour councillor Marion Nisbet, who opposes AV said such a result would have been ”unfair.” Under the system, she said, small areas of a constituency such as Bromley’s Crystal Palace (a Lib Dem stronghold, part of Lewisham West and Penge) could “dominate the rest”, in her view “disproportionately and adversely” affecting the total. For her, a Lib Dem Lewisham would demonstrate AV’s inequities.
Dowd, meanwhile, was among 51 Labour MPs who signed a letter announcing their support for AV. “first past the post isn’t working” and claiming this year as a “time for change.”
He had unsuccessfully campaigned in 2005 for the seat’s predecessor, Lewisham West, gaining 20% of the vote.
Neither Feakes or Dowd could be reached for comment.
By Laurence Dodds