Thoughts on politics and life from a liberal perspective

Tuesday, 2 February 2010

Is AV even worth campaigning for?

With today's announcement that the government is going to prepare the ground for a referendum on changing the electoral system to the Alternative Vote system in a Commons vote next week I, like many Lib Dems I suspect, have very mixed feelings about it.

As I have blogged about previously, AV is not proportional. In fact it can be even less proportional than the current First Past the Post system. In 1997, Labour could have had an even bigger majority under AV.

However it is reform and it does greatly reduce the need for tactical voting which is one of the pernicious features of our current system. It would be churlish to deny this. Also, the Lib Dems would probably benefit electorally from the change. However it would be a bad idea for the party to back a change to a still very unfair system just because it might be a bit better for us.

My view is that it would be better to hold out for a proper change to a proportional system, Single Transferable Vote with multi-member constituencies. Chris Huhne appears to agree although he is leaving the door open to potentially supporting the move to AV as a first step. The big problem with this approach is that even if we were to get this change, any further electoral reform would be off the table for at least a political generation. People would feel that we have already had reform and therefore why would we need more?

So Gordon Brown is now putting the Lib Dems in a tricky position. Does the party support the move to AV as a first step towards what we think is really the best system or does it oppose the move out of principle as nowhere near good enough? Brown of course knows this and is dangling what he thinks is enough of a carrot for the party to bite.

It will be interesting to see whether it does.


Niaccurshi said...

The only point in holding out is if there is anything to hold out for.

It's noble to say STV is the best and without it you won't accept any other compromise but you do understand what that means don't you? Decades, likely, before any talk whatsoever of reform in the slightest. You think that by "holding out" you'll even remotely get the chance to see STV come through in the next 20 years? I know you're an intelligent guy, so you must know that it's a fantasy.

The alternative, however, is to slide a slight amount of power back to the people through AV. With the ability for even those that wish to vote for their smaller party favourites to keep out the "major minority" party there is both more satisfaction in who becomes MP at a local level and an easier task of removing bad MPs despite initial disagreements about who is the best alternatively.

Of course I'm teaching you to suck eggs, but it's this that makes me so concerned about the potential Lib Dem stance. Why cut off your nose to spite the face of the nation?

Support AV, take the change, wake people up to the greater representation that they should achieve through such a change, to the greater power they'll hold. If this just stops the slide in election turn out over a few elections then it will be a good start, and a great base to say "It's fine, but we could do much better with STV...".

After all jumping from AV to STV is really just a change of clothes, FPTP to STV is a change of personality.

FX 初心者 said...

So let's wait and see the result, then applause.

Ian Eiloart said...

I agree that AV isn't worth campaigning for. But the Jenkins Commission recommended AV+, which would be worth campaigning for in my view - even though it's not perfectly proportional, it does have some advantages.

Question: would it be easy to bolt on the "+" in AV+? If so, then maybe AV is an enabling step toward a proportional system.


I've always quite liked AV and AV+ was a sensible solution to the problem of nobody wanting to change anything in this country ever.

It is worth supporting as it would initiate change. Once that has been done, anything is possible.

The scenario could be (i) we support AV now (ii) we emerge from the election in a strong position to negotiate (iii) we argue that the appetite for change has been demonstrated so now's the time to bring the rest of the UK into line with Northern Ireland, which has had it for years, and introduce proper STV to bring democracy to the whole country.

If we oppose or even act cool on AV we will be pilloried for years as having missed the boat on one of our major campaigns which has been running for decades.

Oranjepan said...

I think it's less important for us to say 'this is what we want' than 'this is why we want it'.

In my view electoral reform cannot be separated from a wider package of constitutional reforms, as to do so tends to deal out favours to each interest group and buy them off into supporting the status quo of a disorganised state powerless to represent the real concerns of the public controlled by dark princes at the heart of the old boys network.

So AV, AV+, STV or FPTP is less of an issue than ensuring the role, function and method of filling each job are well coordinated.

What about reform of the Lords? what about separation of church and state? what about having mechanisms in place so the PM can't manipulate the system to take us into an illegal war for ideological or partisan purposes?

Joe Otten said...

I really don't get the argument that if AV is adopted, PR would be off the table for a decade. You could as easily say that if AV is rejected, then reform will be off the table for a decade.

And that is the precedent: it is over a decade since AV+ was dropped, contrary to a manifesto promise.

My view is that people who oppose a good reform because they want a better one are fighting for the enemy. Because it is the actions, not the intentions that matter.