Sunday, February 20, 2011


AV Referendum Dilemma for Cameron

So the AV Referendum campaign is off and running. Counter-intuitively perhaps, it's a bit hard for us left of centre reformers to get our heads around. Like The Times leader yesterday, I'm in favour of radical reform to our creaking political system and feel AV is just not radical enough (mind you, I suspect the right-leaning Thunderer of being disingenuous on this one). And even the leader of the case for AV, less than a year ago, dismissed it as a 'miserable little compromise'. Ideally I'd like to see a proportional system to match votes to seats, so that smaller parties can get a seat at the top tables and the real will of the national community can be reflected in our governments- our simple majority system is just not sufficiently democratic.

AV of course, is not a proportional system: it's chief merit is to remove the shortcoming of first past the post whereby two thirds of seats to the House are won on minorities of the constituency vote. By allowing each candidate to be ranked in preference, every one is judged by each voter. Otherwise hundreds of MPs are elected who do not command the majority support of voters in their home constituencies. So whilst I do not think AV is anywhere near good enough I support it for the improvements it offers and the hope it will be the first step along the road to 'proper' reform.

I rather suspect Cameron has mixed feelings about this too. He is being enjoined by his right wing to oppose it whole-heartedly but he knows that if the measure on which Clegg signed the coalition deal goes against him, he may well walk away from government or be forced to by his party. So Cameron is against AV but not, one feels, at full throttle. His arguments at least were not convincing. Comparing AV to giving the Olympic Gold Medal, not to Usain Bolt but to the runner who came second or third is specious indeed; a sprint final is very far from an election in a representative democracy.

Andrew Rawnsley today, offers his own explanation for the poor arguments. Cameron's insistence that AV will entrench coalitions (but isn't his own a 'wonderful' thing, one asks?) ignores the fact that in the last 38 elections in Australia, the major country using this system, has produced just one hung parliament. First Past the Post, in contrast, has produced six (and arguably eight) hung parliaments over the same period. Cameron also tried to argue that AV is understood only by 'a handful of elites'. This argument astonishes me. My daughter lives in Donegal and she tells me the complexities of the single transferable vote over there are all fully understood by voters we enjoy stereotyping as more than a bit dim.

Rawnsley reckons this thing about understanding is the key. It seems Tory polling has revealed that those most likely to support AV are the AVs; those most likely to oppose, the DEs. So he's pitching his arguments accordingly:

The no campaign will probably not put it so indelicately themselves, but they are calculating that their best hope of preserving first past the post is to mobilise what you could crudely call the Thicko Vote.

Rawnsley goes on to suggest that the reason why Tories no longer argue against holding the referendum on the same day as the May local government elections is that they now think bigger turnout will assist the no vote cause:

If the turn-out is low, the DEs will be the ones staying at home. So the no campaign now believe it suits their cause that the referendum will be on the same day as the May elections because that ought to boost turn-out.

A final point to mention is that very many people are now familiar with AV from club committee and charity votes. It might even be mentioned that Cameron himself was elected by the AV system back in 2005; if it was good enough for him and his party, surely it's good enough for the rest of the country...?

In my opinion you are not right. I am assured. Let's discuss it.
I'm in favour of a proportional system but that's not on offer so I'll have to vote tactically.

"No" seems to me to be the least worst option as it will keep alive the possibility of a fair system within the next 25 years (a yes vote would mean waiting for 4 or 5 elections to be held under the new system = 25-30 years).

As the Jenkins commission put it "On its own AV would be unacceptable because of the danger that that in anything like present circumstances it might increase rather than reduce disproportionality".

Far from being a "step along the road to 'proper' reform" it seems to me more like a time-wasting diversion down an unappealing cul de sac.

It's OK for electing people to posts such as party leader or head of the local bowls club (especially if you want everyone's second choice to win!) but a rotten way to elect a parliament. If it were any good for that then far more than half a percent of the world's population would be using it...
I was going to vote 'yes', as I say in post, but your comment has made me rethink and am minded to follow your lead on this.
arguments followed by explanations = politics. Practical equation.
Good choice - one down, several million still to convince!
As far as i am concerned, the scare talk of coalition is specious. All the parties are coalitions and the leadership of each is a balance of faction; in exercising leadership, the interests of faction have to be accommodated (or ignored if appropriate) so short of the nominal labels of party member, I can't see what real difference it will make. The noises against Ken Clarke make my point I suggest.
Interesting to note the slebs now signed up to back the attempt to change the voting system. Malik, Lumley, Robinson ,Cleese, Firth, Bonham Carter, & (of course) Fry. After years of New Labour we are well acquainted with spin and public relations. Why, then, should the electorate take direction from a bunch of actors and the man who hosts QI?
The intention is presumably that younger voters will see these thesps, get a warm fuzzy feeling about AV and vote yes. Perhaps some of them will, but isn’t it just as likely that some other voters (possibly older and more likely to vote) will wonder what the Yes to AV campaign is hiding behind a wall of celebrity endorsements? The answer is Nick Clegg and perpetual coalition. 'nuff said.
Personally, I'd settle for an end to the blatant gerrymandering & ballot box stuffing that has bedevilled recent past elections & bolstered failing Labour with a “payroll” vote.

Kind regards
& just in case there was any further room for doubt, it's been reported today that Gordon Brown could still be PM under the AV system..........
Most bookies would give you 1000 to one or better on that one.
I don't see why we should change the way in which we vote. I believe that our first past the post system gives us (generally) a stronger government. Our constitution is historically viewed as a wonderfully stable model of democracy by much of the rest of the world so why change it? (Look at Italy,how many governments have they had in the last 50 years compared to us?) People should stop bleating about it being unfair. It's equally unfair to all....that is whichever party is in the minority. Do you really want people like the BNP to have MPs? They could easily with AV or PR. How many people do you know who read/believe newspapers like "The Sun"?
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