Thoughts on politics and life from a liberal perspective

Tuesday, 29 September 2009

Brown commits to AV electoral reform referendum

Well just having heard Gordon Brown's conference speech and having live tweeted it my head is still spinning a bit.


However one proposal leapt out at me and that was his commitment to hold a referendum on changing to the "Alternative Vote" system for Westminster.

As I have covered on here before, AV is not proportional. In fact it can be less proportional than our current First Past the Post system, especially in a good year for a particular party it can exaggerate the swing.

I have already seen a few comments from people that it is "better than nothing" and could be used as a springboard for further electoral reform later.

My current thoughts are:

1) It is unlikely to ever happen anyway as Labour are probably going to lost the election. It seems to just be a tactic to perhaps peel off a few soft Lib Dems with a promise of some sort of electoral reform.
2) Labour's promise in 1997 to have a referendum on electoral reform came to nought. Why should be believe they would follow through now?
3) Even if it did happen, I think it would be bad for us ever getting a proper proportional system (I favour STV with multi-member seats). This is because I am sure the argument would be "we've already had reform haven't we?". I fear many people would not appreciate the nuances of the potential systems and would simply think we had already had electoral reform so why do we need it again.

I do however await the internal debate within the Lib Dems about this announcement with interest. Nick Clegg already signalled he would be willing to back an AV+ referendum (That's AV with a top up to make it more proportional). I wonder what his thinking will be on AV.

I hope he comes to the same conclusion as me.

13 comments:

Duncan Stott said...

But if there was a 'no' vote wouldn't it be painted as the public rejecting electoral reform?

I really hope that this referendum doesn't happen. For those of us who want proportional representation, it would be heads they win, tails we lose.

Kalvis Jansons said...

That is basically it. Mr Brown can promise anything he likes, as it will never happen.

Anonymous said...

Gordon Brown had the opportunity to promise a referendum on (at least) AV+ for the day of the next election and failed to do so. This new promise is meaningless because there's very little chance that Labour will win the next election, and David Cameron is certainly not going to give a moment's thought to electoral reform.

I can only hope now that Nick Clegg, realising that he'll have no meaningful support from the Labour leadership, will scrap his support for AV+ and instead push for full STV with multi-member constituencies. If the Lib Dems do well at the next election and are still punished by FPTP then that could strengthen a bottom-up push for electoral reform, which is the only way it's going to happen.

Duncan Stott is also correct.

Dingdongalistic said...

"As I have covered on here before, AV is not proportional. In fact it can be less proportional than our current First Past the Post system, especially in a good year for a particular party it can exaggerate the swing."

"Exaggerate" in this context refers to transferred votes, which is the same mechanism as is used within Single Transferable Vote (In fact, Alternative Vote is basicaly Single Transferable Vote with single-member constituencies), so you'll forgive me if I'm sceptical about the way you apply the word.

"It is unlikely to ever happen anyway as Labour are probably going to lost the election."

Unless they hold it consecutively with the next election, quite.

"Even if it did happen, I think it would be bad for us ever getting a proper proportional system (I favour STV with multi-member seats)"

It'd at least acknowledge the possibility of the need for electoral reform -- and if offered a choice between FPTP and AV, it's only fair to campaign in favour of AV, which is far and away more fair on the constituency level, and has the potential to reduce party stranglehold on seats.

"This is because I am sure the argument would be "we've already had reform haven't we?"."

Just as the argument from the other side would be "we tried to fix the old system with AV, and it's clearly not solved the problem, so we need more comprehensive reform", or something like that. I'm unconvinced that AV would be a harmful step.

"I fear many people would not appreciate the nuances of the potential systems and would simply think we had already had electoral reform so why do we need it again."

If this is the case, then there's clearly a lot of work necessary if you ever want to see STV -- the public are hardly going to vote for a system they don't appreciate.

AV+ is a very, very different system to STV. For one thing, it has a party mechanism (IE the amount of votes each party receives specifically drives the election, the more strong the proportion of "corrective" top-up MPS, the greater the influence). STV doesn't. STV has a purely individual basis.

With STV, how 'proportional' (a better word would probably be Moderate: http://www.thedailysoapbox.org.uk/2009/09/25/mr-dr-and-pr) the system is depends entirely on the number of MPs elected per constituency. STV with single-member constituencies is essentially the same as AV, and results are not generally proportional until over five MPs are elected per constituency. That would be a fierce debate, even if there were a referendum on STV.

David

Millennium Dome said...

"We are committed to a referendum on the voting system for the House of Commons."

- the Labour Party manifesto... 1997

Brown is promising that he will include a pledge that they have already broken

Bill Quango MP said...

The Proportional Representation 'lite' is a tempter for Nick Clegg. I doubt it will work. Paddy Ashdown fell for it and was then shown the door when the power sharing was no longer needed. Now Gordon tries to tempt Lib Dem voters back to Labour with the promise they desire. Thinking about a hung parliament is a good, if unlikely to succeed, tactic. But you play the hand you have and at least its going to spark some debate, especially on the yellow blogs.

Lib Dems would probably do better forgetting power sharing or embracing the dead Labour party and just try defeating them. Being the official opposition would force the rump of old Labour to agree to PR to have any chance of getting into power again.
That said, if you were the opposition, with a real chance for power in 2015 or 2020, would you still want PR?

Mark Reckons said...

I certainly still would, but then for me it is and always has been a point of principle. I was an advocate of proportional voting long before I joined the party.

Alex said...

Well there's two options here. Support the call for AV or not.

The argument against it is that AV is no more proportional than FPTP.

The argument in favour of calling for AV is essentially that if the LDs don't get their full weight behind the proposal, then it will fail, and therefore electoral reform will be a proposal gone for another generation.

Aside from the likelihood of whether or not the LDs can make a difference to a successful AV proposal, and whether it would hurt our own electoral chances by essentially jumping into bed with Labour, aside from all that, what that argument boils down to essentially playing politics. It's basically saying: "We want STV so bad that we'll play politics with the British people by campaigning for a proposal we don't agree with, AV".

No thank you. That's not the right way to do things. And the British people won't like it either. We have to be straight, and stick to our principles.

And I don't think that a failed AV bid by Labour will have as big an impact on future electoral reform chances as other people think

Oh and Mark - you are aware that the only reason that people like Brown are discussing electoral reform is because of this blog don't you? When you did those posts about safe seats and MPs expenses, and then got linked to in the MSM and went on Radio 4? How does it feel to influence a Labour party conference?

Dingdongalistic said...

It's basically saying: "We want STV so bad that we'll play politics with the British people by campaigning for a proposal we don't agree with, AV".

Surely all it's saying is that though you prefer more comprehensive reform of the voting system, you'd support any moderately progressive change?

Mark Reckons said...

Alex - It's very kind of you to say that. I don't know how far what I did has penetrated the political consciousness but any effect in moving the debate on electoral reform forward has got to be a good thing from my perspective and is way beyond what I ever expected to happen.

I guess those of us in favour of proper reform just need to keep the pressure up and highlight the dreadful consequences of the existing system as much as possible. Expenses is not the only adverse effect!

Alex said...

Dingdongalistic: I disagree because AV isn't a "moderately progressive change". The only thing remotely comparable to liberal aims about AV is that it is "Electoral reform", but because it isn't good reform, then supporting the call for AV is essentially playing politics. If what was on the table was a PR system (but still wasn't STV), then I could see the other side of it, since that would be "moderately progressive change".

Mark: if I recall correctly, those posts are how I came across this blog. And although I was someone who wanted electoral reform because FPTP is patently unfair, I'd never really considered that there was a link with corruption too, although it seems obvious now. And although your post wasn't scientific, it's certainly something to tat needs considering.

But I don't remember electoral reform being mentioned in the media discussions of the expenses scandal before you pointed it out. There was talk of reform needed in Parliament over how expenses were handled etc, but nothing like that AFAIK.

What I'm definitely sure of, is that Brown and Labour didn't just come up with this proposal by themselves out of the ether. Their spin machine definitely was inspired by media talk.

David said...

"Dingdongalistic: I disagree because AV isn't a "moderately progressive change". The only thing remotely comparable to liberal aims about AV is that it is "Electoral reform", but because it isn't good reform, then supporting the call for AV is essentially playing politics. If what was on the table was a PR system (but still wasn't STV), then I could see the other side of it, since that would be "moderately progressive change"."

I disagree. Firstly, AV is a very progressive change on the constituency level. There are other problems with FPTP than simply the outcomes on the party scale, one of the foremost being the fact that constituency elections are only fair if a maximum of two people stand.

STV is not PR. The Democratic Audit study, done in 1997, though flawed, shows that much. Remember, they surveyed on the basis of a five-member STV system, and their findings indicated that the Conservatives would have *still* been lower-represented than under FPTP. It's a preferential voting system, like AV, but for multi-member constituencies, which means that it can also lead to disproportionate swings. The difference is that there's at least a certain logic to these swings (party X has widespread popularity, party Y is broadly unpopular), unlike with FPTP, where splitting the vote means that swings are very often arbitrary.

David said...

In addition to this, I strongly disagree with the idea that any form of "PR" would be a broadly progressive change -- I'd certainly vote against closed-list given the choice between that and the current system.