Voting for AV

This post appeared on the Labour List website on 30th August 2010.

There can be only one rational reason to vote against AV in next May’s referendum, and that is to undermine democratic government in Britain. This explains why ludicrous right-wingers such as Matthew Elliot and Lord Leach are in charge of the campaign for a ‘No’ vote. The best chance for the rich and powerful to carry on ruling the roost is to make sure that the House of Commons remains as unrepresentative and polarised as possible.

Dishing the Lib-Dems, however much we believe they deserve it, is not a good reason to vote ‘No’. Even the most power-crazed and deluded are entitled to the odd good idea, and while AV is not the whole enchilada, it’s definitely better than the moronic First Past the Post (FPTP) system. If the Lib-Dems turn out to have played their part in a slash and burn catastrophe, as seems more than likely, then they will get their pasting at the polls, don’t worry. In fact, if the coalition breaks down early because of the loss of this vote (and I think that unlikely, or it probably never would have formed in the first place), that seems as likely to be to the Lib-Dems’ ultimate electoral advantage as otherwise.

If Labour, or a number of its high-profile members, were to campaign against AV, this will be seen for the hypocrisy it is, given that we very recently had just this proposal in our own manifesto. And why on earth would we reject for national elections something that, as anyone who has attended a branch or CLP AGM will know, is standard practice within our own party?

The advantages of the Alternative Vote are subtle but decisive. By allowing voters to rank candidates in order of preference, it means that it is always possible to give support to their most preferred candidate. Even when that candidate seems unlikely to win, by ranking a second candidate (and further candidates) voters can still express a preference over the final outcome. This reduces the degree to which voting is influenced not by our true preferences, but by our guesses about how others will vote.

Standing for election to Parliament is not the same as trying to win a competition. The purpose of the exercise is to find the candidate that best represents the views of his or her constituency. If a candidate cannot win the support of the majority of constituents, then this suggests that they do not do so. The AV system will generally produce a winner that has some support from a majority of voters. Candidates that take extremist lines in policies or campaigning will usually fail in this regard.

I’m a supporter of a fully proportional system, but I accept that some arguments against PR have merit. In particular, there is a case for a strong constituency link for MPs. AV will not affect this. There is the argument that frequent coalitions are a problem. AV should not generally make coalitions more likely. So, I repeat, there is only one rational reason to vote ‘No’, and that’s not one that any Labour member or supporter should be entertaining. Among supporters of more extensive reform there may be a temptation not to vote at all, but strong support for this change might just show that electoral reform isn’t only for anoraks.

© Diarmid Weir            2010

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