The results of the general election would certainly have been different if the election had been held using a form of proportional representation.
But would they have been better?
The Electoral Reform Society has produced an analysis of May’s general election which it says shows that the “first past the post” voting system is “breaking up Britain”.
It claims that our voting system is “in crisis” because the result was “disproportionate”, meaning that the proportion of seats each party has in the House of Commons is significantly different to the proportion of votes they received.
Consider the West Midlands. These figures refer to the wider West Midlands region, including Worcestershire, Herefordshire, Shropshire, Staffordshire and Warwickshire as well as the West Midlands county, which includes Birmingham, the Black Country and Coventry.
Conservatives got 41.8 per cent of votes in the West Midlands while Labour got 32.9 per cent, UKIP got 15.7 per cent, the Liberal Democrats got 5.5 per cent and the Greens got 3.3 per cent.
This gave the Conservatives 34 seats in the region while Labour got 25 and nobody else got any.
But what if the election had been decided using a more proportional system?
The Electoral Reform Society has produced an estimate of the result if the UK adopted a system called the Single Transferable Vote.
This involves creating large constituencies which include between three and five existing seats and return two to five MPs.
So, for example, Coventry might become a single constituency while Birmingham’s ten constituencies might become two constituencies, such as “north Birmingham” and “south Birmingham”.
Voters then vote for candidates in order of preference - first choice, second choice and so on.
The Electoral Reform Society says that under this system, the West Midlands might have returned 30 Conservative MPs, 22 Labour MPs, six UKIP MPs and one Liberal Democrat.
And then there’s the straightforward party list system, which we already use to elect MEPs who represent us in the European Parliament.
This would use the West Midlands as a single, giant constituency.
And parties would get a share of the seats in Parliament based simply on the share of votes they received. A third of the votes gives you a third of the seats, and so on.
In the West Midlands this would have given the Conservatives 23 seats, with 19 for Labour. UKIP would have nine seats, the Liberal Democrats three and the Greens would get one.
And the result would also, of course, have been very different nationally.
The Conservatives won 331 seats in May, but under a list system they would have got just 242.
Labour won 232 seats, and would have won 208 under a list system.
The Liberal Democrats were nearly wiped out, with just eight seats nationwide. But they would have won 47.
The biggest gainers, however, would have been UKIP. They won just one seat in May, but under a list system they would have won 80.
Greens, who also won just one seat, would have won 20.
And the SNP won 56 seats - but would have won only 30 under a list system.
Katie Ghose, Chief Executive of the ERS, said: “This report shows definitively that our voting system is bust. May 7th was the most disproportionate election in British history – and it’s about time we had a fairer system for electing our MPs.”
She added: “The number of votes cast for parties other than the three main parties rose to its highest ever level on May 7th – the dawn of truly multi-party politics, but voters are being held back by an archaic and broken voting system designed for two-party politics.”
The Electoral Reform Society argues that two thirds of votes were “wasted”. To reach this conclusion, it counts every vote cast for a candidate who didn’t win as a “wasted” vote, as well as every vote cast for a winning candidate beyond the votes they actually needed to win (so if an MP has a majority of 3,000, that counts as 2,999 wasted votes).
But there’s usually more than one way to read statistics.
For example, while the Electoral Reform Society claims were are backing smaller parties more than ever before, the fact is that 67.3 per cent of voters backed the two largest parties (36.9 per cent voting Tory and 30.4 per cent Labour) - compared to 65.1 per cent in 2010 and 67.6 per cent in 2005.
So there’s been no particular move towards the smaller parties in recent decades, although one could still argue that the system was broken in 2005.
Between 1992 and 2001, the two biggest parties got between 72 and 75 per cent of the vote between them.
There’s a tendency sometimes for some on the left to imagine that a “fairer” system would prevent the Tories being in power, because the UK has a natural “progressive” or anti-Tory majority.
In fact, a list system would have given us 242 Conservative MPs and 80 UKIP MPs.
That’s a total of 322 MPs, an effective Commons majority. In other words, we’d have a Conservative/UKIP coalition government.
And perhaps this highlights the best reason against electoral reform.
It would make coalitions more common - and if there’s one thing this election and the collapse of the Lib Dem vote (while the Tories did well) suggests, it’s that this country doesn’t much like coalitions.