Outside the marginals

a commentary on the politics that followed the UK 2010 & 2015 elections

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?

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