My colours were nailed to the mast months ago. I remain in favour of the Alternative Vote for UK elections. This is not a compromise position. It’s not a stepping stone to something more radical, it’s the best way of ensuring our constituency MP is the person most of us want. Nothing more, nothing less.
So I watched the Yes to AV election broadcast from last night. This was the one with the woman on the loudspeaker.
The main arguments presented were that AV would make MPs:
- more responsive to their constituents
- less inclined to fiddle their expenses
- less secure in safe seats
Of the three assumptions, I actually believe only the first is true. MPs will have to be more responsive to their constituents rather than to Party HQ. The great stick that MPs wield at voters is ‘Vote for me or you’ll be letting that lot in’. The Iraq war vote is perhaps the most potent illustration of this in practice. MPs could be secure in the knowledge that anti-war candidates wouldn’t make much impression on the vote in 2005 for fear of letting in Conservatives
Similarly, the Conservatives have held themselves together over Europe for fear of giving an easy ride to Labour even where their candidate has been completely out of step with the views of the constituency. Under AV the voter wouldn’t have to 2nd guess the biggest threat, but would be able to vote for the candidate who best reflected their views. In reality, it wouldn’t be such big issues that made the difference. It could be anything from the imposition of a candidate by party HQ to views on a local health service reorganisation.
Of the other assumptions, it would certainly make some constituencies less safe, but it might make others safer (If that’s what the voters wanted). And I really don’t see it making any difference to expense fiddling. Some MPs wouldn’t take cash if it was left on the doorstep for them, others have shown the most arrogant contempt. AV would not change that situation
So overall I’d give the AV camp 1.5 out of 3 for their broadcast but I think they missed some of the key benefits.
So what about the no to AV broadcast?
They’re straight in there with it’ll lead to coalitions. The problem is that we’ve been heading towards coalitions for the last 60 years. There’s been the occasional blip in the opposite direction but the trend has been quite constant. Between them the two major parties have had a reducing share of the vote. I do predict that the Lib Dem’s unprincipled stance in kowtowing to every whim of this Conservative Government will reduce their share of the national vote dramatically but there’s also Greens, Ukip and nationalists to take into account. Given the current popularity of the parties I’m inclined to believe that AV will not make a huge difference to the chances of coalitions; in fact it’s been shown that in both 1979 and 1997 we’d have had bigger majority governments such was the unpopularity of the losing party. Under AV you’ll only get a coalition if that’s what the voters want.
We then had the horse race!. This is the most ridiculous analogy going. We’re choosing an MP not racing horses. If you have to use sporting analogies, you could argue that Fulham won the 2011 FA cup as they scored the most goals in the first proper round of the competition beating Peterborough United 6-2. But that’s ridiculous. You could argue that the X factor should only last one week and whoever wins that week’s votes is the winner. The race is over only when it’s over. Under first past the post, that is decided with the person who has the highest number of votes. Under AV the race is over when it is determined when more people want them to be MP than don’t want them. Both systems are valid and we practice both systems in our daily lives. Spurious sporting analogies should not be used to determine which is better.
And finally the broadcast resorts to this idea that some people get more than one vote. No they don’t. At the end of the count their will be two piles, those For the winning candidate and those Against.
There’s no duplication of votes just two piles.
Ah well you’ve taken account of people who voted for extremists in that pile
Yes we have. Just as we take account of people in most elections who would vote for extremists but none has stood and they’ve ended up voting for a mainstream party. I wish people didn’t have extremist views but I can not deny them a say in who their MP should be. I have only ever heard of one MP actively discouraging someone from voting for them because of the views they held.
Overall I’d give that broadcast half a mark out of three. I think there’s a valid argument for wanting Government to be a contest between two conflicting points of view – Labour v Conservative. That everything else is an irrelevance. I happen to think the complexities of modern life no longer allow for that and we damage our own parties if we do not try to respond to the changing nuances those complexities bring
I think that given I’m supporting AV I should be open about how I would tend vote in an election held under that system.
- Green Party
- Lib Dems (although their movement to the right is possibly pushing them down my preferences further)
- Conservative Party
The debate about AV is degenerating to a nasty spat as contests do when there’s little to choose between the two opponents. AV is a small improvement but it won’t be a huge difference. In most cases the winning candidate will remain the same. I suspect the vote will be lost and I can live with that. Our present system is still a democratic system and on the whole, representatives of all the parties do work hard under it. It’s really a ridiculous time to be having this referendum when there’s so much more important stuff to address. But if we have to have it now, we should take a considered objective view. So let’s not insult voters by making claims or attacks that can not be met.
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