Thoughts on politics and life from a liberal perspective

Saturday 20 June 2009

LDV readers vote for AV over FPTP!?


A surprising result from the Lib Dem Voice poll on whether we should back Alternative Vote over First Past the Post (assuming it was to be on offer). Apparently 51% (out of 345 votes overall) think that we should.

As I have blogged about before I want Single Transferable Vote. I was dubious about Alternative Vote Plus (AV+) as are a number of other Lib Dem bloggers (e.g. here and here) but at least that would be more closely proportional than FPTP. There's no such guarantee with AV. It may even end up being less proportional than FPTP. It can exagerate landslides if the second placed party is unpopular. It would have given Labour an even bigger majority in 1997 for example.

So why would LDV readers support it? Here are a few theories:

1) They think that it would be a "step in the right direction". AV does at least have the distinction of ensuring candidates get 50% of the vote in their seat after all the transfers are made. And it gets the electorate used to listing preferences. The reasoning would be that after this move, it would make campaigning for a further move to STV easier. I think this is completely wrong. The electorate would not stand for further changes after a change to AV for a very long time probably decades. It would actually set back the cause of those of us who want a proportional system.

2) Perhaps lots those who responded are not Lib Dems. This would make sense as I am sure LDV is much more widely read than just the party membership and there was no restriction on who could vote. It would be interesting to see what the results of a similar poll that was only open to party members (as LDV have the ability to do I think) would be.

3) Lots of Lib Dems favour a system that would likely work against the party's interests. Whilst I like to think that we Lib Dems are not as brazenly partisan as other parties but I very much doubt they would actively vote to make the situation any worse for us!

4) Perhaps not all respondents understood the distinction between AV, AV+, STV etc. It can get very confusing and sometimes politicians deliberately obfuscate by for example saying AV when they mean AV+.

Or maybe there are other reasons. What do you think?


Joe Otten said...

Theo Butt Philip said...

“The electorate would not stand for further changes after a change to AV for a very long time probably decades. It would actually set back the cause of those of us who want a proportional system.”
There’s no reason to believe we’re actually going to get offered AV, but if we were I think we should take it. It has all the positive features of STV (weakening of party power, abolition of “wasted” votes) except for being proportional. Now, whilst I’d like a proportional system, I’d rather have some of the reforms we want than none.
I don’t want to let the best be the enemy of the good, AV is considerably better than FPTP, I think it’s pretty optimistic to think that we’re going to get offered STV any time soon. The Liberal Party had STV in its 1950 manifesto (and maybe before then) almost 60 years later we’ve never even come close to getting it through, the idea that accepting AV would be damaging would damage our chances of getting STV through for several decades requires us to believe that we’ll get the chance to introduce STV at some time in that period, that’s not something I want to gamble on.

Theo Butt Philip said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jennie Rigg said...

I reckon it's mostly option 2, but partly people like Joe.

I am with you on this.

Joe Otten said...

While AV stands on its own as a positive step, and should be supported for that reason, I happen to think that it makes a move to STV more likely not less. Once we give voters a taste of the extra power, and once they get used to preferential voting, they will want more.

On the other hand rejecting AV means rejecting much of what is good about STV.

I agree with Theo here - there is no building up of pressure here, no inexorable progress towards voting reform. We need to grab the opportunities we get. Just sitting and waiting means it won't happen.

Jennie, thanks for that. It's good to be liked.

Mark Pack said...

During the 1990s the question of how far the party should push for STV versus supporting other voting systems if that's what was on offer came up regularly (e.g. with the votes on PR for European Parliament elections, the publication of the Jenkins report and the choice of PR for Scotland, Wales and London).

During that time the party consistently said, 'we want STV but we'll support something else if it's a choice between that or the current system'. That view was pretty heavily supported across the party; e.g. there was no revolt at conference against MPs having voted one particular way.

So when you say you find the LDV poll surprising, I think you're looking at it the wrong way round. Given the views previously expressed across the party, why should we expect them to have changed? Views do sometimes change, but in this case it's hard to see any reason why we should have expected that to happen.

As for whether AV helps or hinders the party, I think the evidence is overwhelmingly that it would boost the number of MPs we get elected, compared with first past the post. (The recent LDV post arguing otherwise doesn't convince me, particularly when put against the academic research from a few years ago.)

Moreover, it seems to me quite reasonable to say, 'more Lib Dem MPs would mean a better chance of getting more Lib Dem policies in future - not just over how our elections work, but across all the other issues that are important, such as the environment'.

Look at Scotland, for example. We ended up supporting something other than STV for the Scottish Parliament, but as a result of having a different system we've been able to get far more Lib Dem policies put into practice. Saying we should have held out for STV or nothing involves not just a judgement about how likely STV was, but also about how much or how little you value those other policy achievements.

Mark Thompson said...

You make some interesting points Mark and I bow to your knowledge of the history of the party.

I think perhaps the reason I feel this way is because I want a proportional system. I am actually not pursuing this in order to get more Lib Dem MPs per se, it is because of natural justice. It is a disgrace that the electoral system distorts the representation of the winning party and having a new system which still does this (and could make it worse), even if on average it meant a few more Lib Dem MPs is not good enough for me.

I was a supporter of electoral reform (to a proportional system) for many years before I joined the Lib Dems and for me this is not a partisan thing.

If what you say about AV being better for the Lib Dems is true (and I think there are arguments on both sides here) then we lose the ability to argue about the principle of proportionality but still face the charge of self-interest. That is not a fight I relish.

I really do think that if we got AV, that would be it for decades for any further electoral reform. Maybe I am being hopelessly idealistic but there are so many advantages to STV that I feel going for a system that could end up being less proportional is a bad move.

Anonymous said...

I want STV too, but if the alternatives are FPTP and AV like in the poll of the LDV, I'd prefer AV over FPTP. It at least eliminates (or at least should eliminate) the need for tactical voting, and resembles more the STV.