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Page last updated at 12:22 GMT, Wednesday, 12 May 2010 13:22 UK

Keeping things in proportion

Nick Watson
By Nick Watson
Producer, West Midlands Politics Show

Keeping things in proportion

The deal maker in forming the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition was electoral reform.

However it would have made little difference to the result of the general election here in the Midlands.

The Lib Dems were delighted to force the Tories to agree to a referendum on Alternative Vote (AV).

But claims it would change the political map here are incorrect, say the Electoral Reform Society (ERS).

Ballot paper
Will numbers be replacing crosses on our ballot papers?

First past the post delivered a result which saw the Conservatives win 33 seats, Labour 24 and the Liberal Democrats two in the area the government defines as the West Midlands (that excludes parts of Gloucestershire to which the BBC Midlands transmits).

The ERS say that under AV there would be 31 Tory MPs, 25 for Labour, two Lib Dems and one from other parties. A result almost identical to that delivered under the current system.

Broken election

The Liberal Democrats preferred electoral system is the Single Transferable Vote (STV) and when you look at the figures it is easy to see why.

Under STV the result in the West Midlands would have been radically different. The Tories would still have come out on top with 26 seats, Labour would have won 20 but the Liberal Democrats would have won 13 seats.

Dr Ken Ritchie of the ERS says the current system has delivered a result across the UK where whole cities and counties are the properties of one party, regardless of how people there voted.

"Britain's new political map is simple. It's not a map most voters would recognise as legitimate after another broken election," he said.

Dr Ritchie is a supporter of STV, which he says would deliver credible and representative government to the UK - but as things stand that will not be on the table at a referendum.

Daniel Kawczynski MP
Daniel Kawczynski MP: Supports the current system

Also once legislation has been passed to allow a referendum on AV,Conservative MPs will be allowed to campaign for a "No" vote.

Leading the charge will be the Shrewsbury & Atcham MP Daniel Kawczynski, who is one of the Co-Chairs of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for the Continuation of First Past the Post.

"My concern with AV is that it means politicians have to tailor their message to pick up second preferences. First Past the Post delivers a clear result," he said.

The group already has the backing of other MPs from this region including Owen Paterson, the Conservative MP for Shropshire North as well as Warley's Labour MP John Spellar.

Notable supporter

On the other side of the debate are, of course, the Liberal Democrats but there are also plenty of Labour MPs who support electoral reform.

One of the most notable is the Birmingham Northfield MP Richard Burden, who chairs the All Party Parliamentary Group on Electoral Reform.

Speaking earlier this year when Gordon Brown announced a bill on electoral reform Mr Burden said: "Over the last year we have seen a clear public demand for a fairer voting system and it is good that the Labour Party has responded to that."

It was too late for Labour and Gordon Brown but hopes the voting system could be changed are still alive and may well define the opening months of the new historic coalition which now governs Britain.

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