Thoughts on politics and life from a liberal perspective

Friday, 15 April 2011

Why "the secret AV escape clause" won't work

Sadie Smith has an interesting post on the Total Politics blog today where she highlights how even if there is a "Yes" vote in the AV referendum that Conservative MPs would still have the chance to thwart a change to the voting system. She explains how because AV can only be implemented if the new boundary changes are voted through that were that legislation to be voted down, AV would not come in:

Imagine that AV has been backed by a narrow majority in the referendum, on a very low turnout. For many Tories, especially David Cameron, that’s a nightmare scenario. In those circumstances, would he be able to convince his own side to trigger the implementation of AV by voting through new boundaries?

Don’t forget, the Tories aren’t expected to get off scot-free when the Commission presents the new constituency map; at least thirteen Conservatives look set to lose their seats, and many more will be expected to campaign within vastly changed boundaries with no guarantee of success, especially under AV.

Come 2013, the price that Tory backbenchers are being asked to pay in order to keep Nick Clegg in Ministerial cars might begin to look a tad high. They would have the power to stop the introduction of AV by voting down the implementation of the new boundaries, if they joined forces with Labour. That would surely be a coalition breaker, but it’s not inconceivable.

It's a thought provoking post, and fair play to Sadie for highlighting this anomaly but I am afraid in reality I just cannot see it happening.

Irrespective of the technical whys and wherefores, as far as the public are concerned they are voting in a referendum to change the voting system. If there is a "No" vote then we stick with First Past the Post. But if there is a "Yes" vote, no matter how narrow and no matter how low the turnout, people will expect the change to be implemented. If through some parliamentary alchemy the Tories manage to prevent this from happening I expect there would be a constitutional crisis. The will of the people through a referendum would be being thwarted.

We don't often have national referenda in this country but were parliamentarians to so blatantly override the result in this way in order to preserve a voting system that keeps them in their jobs then the backlash seen from the expenses scandal would look like a minor spat. I suspect even plenty who voted "No" would be disgusted by such a manoeuvre.

And that's why I just cannot see it happening. MPs will surely know the political dynamite they are playing with under these circumstances and hence would not pursue something so obviously anti-democratic.

If it is a "Yes" vote next month then I am sure AV will become the electoral system within short order. Vox populi, vox Dei.


Bernard Salmon said...

Sadie Smith's piece is nonsense. The boundary change will take place as a result of the reduction in seats, not the switch to AV. If MPs voted down the secondary legislation implementing the boundary changes, the result would be that the next election would go ahead with AV, but on the existing boundaries.

Mark Wadsworth said...

Let's win the referendum first and worry about the rest later, shall we?

Russ Shea said...

"If through some parliamentary alchemy the Tories manage to prevent this from happening I expect there would be a constitutional crisis. The will of the people through a referendum would be being thwarted."

A constitutional crisis that Clegg et al have nurtured by changing the nature of the referendum from an indication of the people's will to be referred to parliament to a hard and fast piece of legislation that will have to be applied, even without the mandate of a majority.

Oh, and Clegg wasn't to worried about the 'will of the people' when he reneged on a referendum on the EU, which is what most *real* people actally want.

Anonymous said...

@Bernard Salmon:

Actually, Sadie Smith (no relation!) is right, at least according to the Electoral Commission:

But just like Mark, I don't think that just because it is possible to stop the introduction of AV despite a Yes vote it will actually be stopped.

Hugh said...

The Yes campaign need to do 3 things and fast:
1. Emphasise the advantage of AV of allowing 'rebel' candidates to stand against the official candidates, without splitting the vote, thus reducing the power of party machines.
2. Emphasise the decline in majority-elected MPs from 94% in 1955 to 32% in 2010.
3. Try Nigel Farage (what have they got to lose!?)

Andrew Miles said...

Sadie Smith is one of the few to ask a really relevant question, that the Press should have got hold of in our interests and needs sorting out now (Mark Wadsworth).

Whether you can "see it" happening or not (Mark Thompson) there is a clear get out clause stated on page 8 of the Electoral Commission leaflet: "If (note the word "if") the new boundaries are implemented, the 'alternative vote' system will be used for all future elections to the House of Commons."

Unlikely or not, this states a get out clause and it is lazy and naive to ignore it - we should be questioning this hard and demanding a clear answer from the current Government before Thursday’s vote.

Do not settle for “I cannot see”, think it through to the end and get an answer from those who count and need to be made accountable to any lack clarity this loophole creates.

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