An Alternative Voting System
The Conservative – Liberal Coalition has promised a referendum on the introduction of the Alternative Vote (AV), yet:
- The Conservatives will campaign against AV in the referendum
- AV is not the reformed system that the Liberals want
- AV will not bring about the change that most of those calling for reform want
There is a danger of the AV referendum going the same way as the referendum in the North East on a Regional Assembly. (The major parties did not want it, and the electorate saw the proposal as a pig in a poke, so devolutionists voted with anti-devolutionists against the proposal.)
So if we have an early referendum on AV, and the Conservatives campaign against it, some of Labour half-heartedly campaign for it, and the Liberals confuse the message “this is not what we really want, but it’s a start”, it may well be lost. And where will that leave the Liberals? Without a Paddle! Very many of their supporters will then think that in going into coalition, they sold out. That may not be a fair verdict, but that is how it will be seen.
Even if by some fluke the referendum is won, what will then happen? Some constituencies will become marginally less marginal.
- Where the Liberals are third, it is probable that their supporters’ second preferences will divide between the Conservative and the Labour candidate – and may therefore cancel out.
- Where the Liberals are second, we may find them in a few constituencies over-hauling the leading candidate because the third placed candidate’s supporters are damned if they will support the first place candidate.
- Where the Liberals hold the seat they may be marginally more secure, because the third place candidate’s supporters will not give second preferences to the second place candidate.
- (With apologies to Wales and Scotland, where they have four+ party politics)
But, on balance, will we see any real change? MPs will claim a spurious added legitimacy from having “50%” of the vote. Whilst strict proportionality is not an objective of most people, some movement to remove the gross dis-proportionality is expected – and will not be delivered.
So outside the cognoscenti, what will those vaguely wanting reform think?
- “We voted for it, got it, and it did not work” (Resignation)
- “If this [AV] did not work why were we offered it, the reformers do not know what they are talking about” (Cynicism)
- “OK, this is what they said they [the reformers] wanted, end of story” (Resignation)
The pressure for reform will be dissipated by AV. Even if the reformers were to get a second bite of the cherry, there is a good chance it will be AV+, thereby handing power to the parties to decide which of their party toadies should be promoted off party lists straight into the legislature.
In addition the Conservatives are going for a boundary commission to reduce the number of (single member) constituencies. There will be no enthusiasm for another to set up the multi-member constituencies required for a Single Transferable Vote (STV) system; the only system that improves proportionality, gives the voter the chance to express preferences between individuals, and breaks the power of the party list.
I think the Liberals may have been out manoeuvred by the Conservatives who have shot the Liberals’ Electoral Reform fox. And with Electoral Reform emasculated; what is the point of the Liberals?