Thursday, April 07, 2011

To AV, or not to AV?

Well, I got a letter from Eddie Izzard, Joanna Lumley and Tony Robinson, amongst others, urging me to vote 'yes' in the forthcoming referendum on electoral reform. What I'm being urged to vote 'yes' to is, of course, changing our system for electing MPs from a simple majority - the so-called 'first past the post' system - to the Alternative Vote (AV) system, which takes into account the 'alternative choices' of voters whose preferred candidate has been eliminated from the contest early on. Actually, that's a gross over-simplification of AV, but I have neither the time nor the patience to go into it in detail. The question is, should I vote 'yes'? Now, cards on the table time here, for me this isn't a debate as to the pros and cons of reforming our electoral system - it's clear to me that reform is badly needed. But simply agreeing that there should be change still isn't the same thing as supporting the actual proposals on offer in the referendum.

The most obvious reservation I have is as to whether AV actually represents a significant improvement upon the current arrangements. To be frank, it's quite clear that the main reason that it is being offered up is because it the 'easiest' option, preserving the existing constituency system. In truth, it still wouldn't really return a parliament which reflected the way people had actually cast their votes, although it would be an improvement on the existing arrangements. The fact is that better electoral systems, based upon true proportional representation of votes, exist, and are successfully used throughout the democratic world. Indeed, one such system already exists even in the UK - the single transferable vote system is used for some elections in Northern Ireland. This has the advantage of retaining a constituency system - thereby retaining the much vaunted 'link' between MPs and local voters - but making them larger and having them return more than one MP. On the debit side, it does involve a system of vote counting which is possibly even more complex than that used by AV. But it does return fairer results. However, other, simpler, proportional representation systems do exist.

There is another important consideration, which has less to do with the case for constitutional reform than political tactics. The reality of this referendum is that it exists only as a sop to the Tory Lickspittles, sorry, Liberal Democrats, by the Tories to try and buy them off - it allows the Lib Dem leadership to justify its unholy coalition with the Tories to its rank and file leadership by holding out the prospect of finally attaining their Holy Grail of electoral reform. Consequently, a failure to achieve this goal could help to undermine this dreadful government - if electoral reform is no longer on the horizon, then it's possible that the Lib Dem rank and file will begin to exert pressure on their leadership. After all, if there's no prospect of AV, then what's the point of being in the coalition any more? Now, I know there are a lot of people out there, particularly the ones who hang around political blogs, who will label me as 'cynical' for even considering such a thing. For them, principles must come above politics. To which I reply: grow up. Politics is a dirty business and we're playing for high stakes here - anything which could shorten the life of this dangerous government is worth considering. Even voting 'no' in the referendum, despite my personal convictions on electoral reform. So, what will I do? To be frank, I still haven't decided.

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Blogger squatlo said...

If I received a letter from Eddie Izzard, even a form letter with a political motivation, it would end up in a frame and placed in a highly visible spot in my humble abode!

Cake or death!

2:03 pm  

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