democracy politics

The government that might have been

This week the Electoral Reform Society can reveal what the outcome of the election could have been under a variety of different voting systems. There are always little charts right after the election showing alternative distributions of seats, but that can only re-arrange votes and seats. It doesn’t show the way people might have voted in a different system, if they knew their vote mattered more. To do that, you have to ask them. This the ERS have done, talking to over 40,000 people about their true party preferences, rather than just the way they cast their vote.

Here’s how the distribution of seats would have been under different systems:


Interesting to see how little things would have improved under an AV system, which suggests the country was right to turn it down – and confirms what a pointless idea it was to put that option to a referendum.

The ERS suggest that this is the “least representative result in UK electoral history”, and that half of all MPs were elected without a majority. A new record was set for an MP elected with the smallest vote share – 24.5%.

“Our voting system needs to change” they conclude, “so that people can vote for what they believe in, knowing that their vote will count and that they will see their choices reflected in Parliament.”



  1. The government that might have been = Tory/UKIP coalition.

    I’ve seen several posts pro PR like this one and they never say that the result this time would be Deputy Prime Minister Farage. I wonder why?

    1. This isn’t a pro-PR post, just pro-reform. My preferred option would be STV.

      What people do with their vote is up to them, and the often well-meaning desire to lock out opinions we don’t approve of is the main obstacle to change.

      Incidentally, I think a minority Tory government or second election would have been more likely outcome than a Tory/UKIP coalition, for a variety of reasons.

      1. STV is a type of Proportional Representation. So you therefore are pro PR.

        I accept minority Conservative government with a confidence and supply deal with UKIP would be quite possible but the Fixed Term Parliament Act makes a second election unlikely. But the fact is Nigel Farage would have a big influence on the government of the UK while the Greens would not. Pro PR supporters, whatever brand of PR they support, need to be clear about that and they are not.

        1. Yes, STV is a form of PR, but it wouldn’t have produced as extreme a result as full PR. The Tories would have more to play with, though still a long way from the means to form a government.

          I’m not ignorant of UKIP’s potential power under a more proportional system, But I’m not championing it on behalf of the greens either. I’m not a member of any political party. I’m a member of the Electoral Reform Society instead, and I think obsessing over which parties get an advantage or disadvantage is unhelpful. It makes it a divisive issue, when it should be the opposite – widening the franchise of our democracy, giving people a bigger stake in government, and encouraging more cross-party dialogue.

          1. Firstly, titling a post “The Government that might of been” without addressing what it would have been isn’t great journalism.

            Secondly I don’t think PR if whatever type is a cure to those ills. You put too much faith in process. (Also, how would changing the voting system widen the franchise? It would be the same people voting.)

            PR systems have disadvantages compared to majoritarian ones. Our system does provide accountability, strong government and excludes extremists. PR isn’t so good at that.

            No political system is prefect. But in the UK our system is doing what it is designed to and the general population are happy with it. I’d bet that if we had a referendum on full PR anytime soon it would fail.

            As I’ve said before, it is hard to think of any post war UK election that wasn’t broadly the result the country wanted.

  2. Millions of votes in this country don’t count for anything. A more proportional system gives people a more fair vote. Hence a fairer franchise.

    My readers aren’t idiots. They can draw their own conclusions from how the votes would fall under different systems.

    And I’ve made my arguments for reform in detail elsewhere, so I won’t repeat myself.

    1. Franchise means “‘the right to vote in public elections.” ‘Widening the franchise’ means giving more people the vote. Widening does not have the same meaning as fairer.

      You said PR would widen the franchise. That obviously isn’t true so I see you are trying to redefine what you wrote. If you are going to make sloppy mistakes at least admit them.

      1. I know what the franchise is, thanks. I’m referring to the idea of a ‘full and fair franchise’, where having a vote actually means something – re-enfranchising voters, if you will. If you want to nitpick, then I suppose it would technically be deepening the franchise rather than widening it.

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