If Britain had PR, Ukip would win 99 seats. Food for thought

Calls for proportional representation will come from all corners on 8 May. But there's a reason to ignore them

Douglas Carswell and Nigel Farage
(Image credit: Peter Macdiarmid/Getty )

It is very likely – make that 100 per cent definite – that there will be calls from across the country for a new system of proportional representation once this election is over.

Lib Dems, Greens and Ukip voters will be asking why they have so few MPs considering their parties’ popular support. Others might be asking why the SNP has so many, considering its voter numbers.

But would PR really be a fairer solution? Martin Baxter of Electoral Calculus has been crunching the numbers for the Daily Telegraph to find out.

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Using current predications of the expected vote share on 7 May, PR would deliver Ukip 99 seats, the Lib Dems 49, and the Greens 37 – many, many more than they can dare hope for under the current first-past-the-post system.

Labour would be down to 213, the Tories down to 201 and the SNP on 23 rather than the 50-plus currently predicted by pollsters.

Here comes the big BUT…

To reach the magic figure of 326 MPs needed for a Commons majority, no two parties’ MPs added together (excepting a highly unlikely ‘grand coalition’ of Labour and the Tories) would come anywhere near.

“Any coalition would have to be an unwieldy three, four, or even six- party affair,” says Baxter. “It would be a recipe for fractious and fractured government.”

Before we junk the current system due to a single “unfair” election result, Baxter urges us to consider this: the average vote share for the three major parties over the 29 general elections since the year 1900 has been 44 per cent for the Conservatives, 33 per cent for Labour, and 19 per cent for the Liberals.

Compare this with the amount of “governing time” the three parties have enjoyed (counting coalitions as ‘half-government’) over the same period: Conservatives 54 per cent, Labour 29 per cent and Liberals 12 per cent.

“Now those are not quite exact matches,” Baxter admits, “but it is not an appalling outcome that flies in the face of democracy… When the losers clamour for change after the May election, we should resist their calls to chase the illusion of perfectability.”

Whether this cuts any ice with the pro-PR brigade remains to be seen - there could be some very angry voters around on 8 May. For instance, according to opinion polls, Ukip currently enjoy a 12-14 per cent share of the nation vote. But under the first-past-the-post system, the Faragists are predicted to win only one or two seats. Not 99.

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Jack Bremer is a London-based reporter, attached to The Week.co.uk. He has reported regularly from the United States and France.