I must admit that when it comes to proportional representation, by elections are a fly in the ointment. Yes, it is easy to define a system of PR that would work for a single seat, such as the Single Transferable Vote, but it would be impossible to reflect the outcome on a proportional national picture. A constituency in England can only elect one candidate and this would be out of all proportion to a truly representative parliament.
What I mean is that if party A gets 10% of the national vote and party B gets 40% then you would expect party A to have 10% of the seats in parliament and party B, 40%. In a by-election party A could win and get 100% of the seat. You couldn’t then recalculate the rest of the seat in parliament to reflect the national picture, which may well have changed anyway from the last general election.
No, we must accept that a truly proportionate parliament can only come from a general election. Proportionality requires the whole rather than a part.
What happened then in the Batley and Spen by election? The result is well known now, a hold for Labour, yet there were sixteen candidates standing. Only five however would trouble the national picture. Labour, Conservatives and Liberal Democrats got a high enough percentage of votes to have affected the national picture, had this been a general election, whilst it is not clear whether the other two, the Workers and the Yorkshire would stand in more than this seat.
It would appear that the Labour vote was split by the Workers but this is just a guess. Nobody knows what would have actually happened if the candidate didn’t stand.
By elections are notoriously difficult to relate to the national picture. After all the general election is, in effect, 650 by elections but there is no doubt that molehills will be turned into mountains and each party will find some way to explain how it was a great day for them. Labour has already claimed that it is the start of its fightback while the Conservatives claim they didn’t lose as they hadn’t won it in the first place! There was a swing away from both parties.
Most worrying though turnout was less than half at 47.49%. Who knows what would happen if everyone had turned out.