Thoughts on politics and life from a liberal perspective

Monday, 7 June 2010

Tory opponents of AV are falling into a trap

Featured on Liberal Democrat Voice

I heard a speech earlier by Tory MP Eleanor Laing in the Commons during the Queen's Speech debate. She focused on the referendum on AV and made it very clear that she was an opponent. She mustered a number of arguments against it including the cost of a referendum (she suggested £80 million - I wonder if many Tories would worry about the cost of a referendum on the EU!) amongst others.

One of her arguments was that it is a "red herring" (or "yellow herring" as one wag shouted out) because AV can be less proportional and therefore not fair. I do not have the exact quote as Hansard online has not been updated yet but she definitely used the word fairness. Now I have some sympathy with some of Ms Laing's comment here. AV is indeed not proportional as I have long argued on this blog. On the other hand it does have some things to recommend it not least that it should reduce some forms of negative campaigning (of the "X can't win here" variety) and would remove the need for tactical voting.

However where I find her hypocrisy breathtaking is in her attempt at arguing that that we should not have reform to AV because it is not fair. Neither is First Past the Post! Fairness would involve a much more proportional system of the sort that the Lib Dems have been fighting for for generations and that Ms Laing and her cohorts are also steadfastly against. If you follow the fairness argument to its logical conclusion then PR is the solution.

If the Tories want to oppose AV they need to do a better job than this. Otherwise they will find that they are inadvertently making the argument for even more radical reform of the sort that they are absolutely terrified.


richard allan said...

Actually, AV increases the need for tactical voting. And it's of a more insidious kind than FPTP. Picture this:

Tory 45%
Lib Dem/Tory 18%
Lib Dem/Labour 12%
Labour 25%

Under FPTP Tories will win unless Labour vote tactically. Under AV with no tactical voting, Lib Dems will win. But what if 6% from the Tory voters vote Labour instead? Labour will have 31% to the Lib Dems' 30%, so now the Lib Dems will be eliminated first, and the 18% of Lib Dem/Tories will push the Tories over the top. The only way to avoid this is for Labour voters to vote tactically... but if they were willing to do that, then FPTP would do.

And the Lib Dems don't believe in Proportional Representation. They believe in STV, which doesn't deliver anything close to PR. Ireland has the same two-and-a-half party system as we do.

The only system that delivers genuine PR is a nationwide constituency, like in Israel and the Netherlands.

David Blake said...

But there is value in retaining a constituency link and I think STV does that better than FPTP. Most people could have someone they have helped to elect.

Joe Otten said...

richard, that's hardly more insidious, in fact it is much more rarified.

And in this worst case scenario of yours the outcome is the same as FPTP. So this can hardly make a case against AV when we are switching from FPTP.