A reader writes:

While I understand your opposition to changes to the British electoral system, I can't agree that changes to the system would put the Liberal Democrats into a position of permanent kingmaker.  While the current electoral inputs (i.e., votes) would create this scenario if the outputs (i.e., seats in Parliament) were changed, there is really no reason to believe that the inputs would stay the same if the electoral system were changed.  If a strictly proportional system were adopted, for instance, many more parties are likely to have some representation in Westminster. 

Look at the elections for the EU Parliament.

In 2009, the Lib Dems came in fourth behind the Tories, the UKIP, and Labour.  Four other parties also ended up with seats from Great Britain, plus three parties additional from Northern Ireland.  Assuming that the same results were transferred over to Parliament, the Conservatives could have formed government with the help of either the UKIP or of the Lib Dems and one of the smaller parties (probably the Ulster Unionist Party).

Even if something much less radical were implemented, such as an instant runoff voting system in which the voter ranks his or her preferences, the way that voters act will likely be substantially different.  Small parties would be benefit ted dramatically by the ability of voters to switch their support to the major parties in the event their preferred candidate does not have sufficient support.  Most current writing focuses on the ability of Conservative or Labour voters to list the Lib Dems as their second choice (or vice versa), but it is just as likely that voters will list the UKIP, the Greens, the SNP, the BNP, etc., as their first, second, or third choices.  The Tories and Labour may still dominate the system, but the "third party" vote is likely to disperse to other parties.

Ironically, this may mean that the Lib Dems are also best off with the current system.  They may be a perpetual third, but they have a lock on that position that other parties cannot break.  Plus, they are finally in a position where they may be able to either supplant Labour or at least because a functioning third.  Electoral reform may do nothing more than reduce the Lib Dems back to about 50-60 seats in Westminster.

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