Reform what works: No to AV!May 4, 2011
My main interest as many readers know is in social reform rather than electoral reform, since I don’t believe that all of the challenges we face in the modern age can be addressed by changing how we vote for our politicians. However, given today is such a historic day in the UK where we are holding a referendum on how we elect our Members of Parliament, and given many people have yet to decide whether to opt for Alternative Vote or to keep First Past The Post, I will indulge a little and give my last minute take on the debate – perhaps some undecideds will be swayed enough to come off the fence as a result.
It may or may not come as a surprise, but I am a First Past The Post Supporter, for three reasons. Firstly, whilst many historic efforts to extend the franchise and reform our electoral system over the past centuries have been about creating a more inclusive society, I fear that AV could mean a small minority of people could have a disproportionate impact on politics. The referendum itself is designed in such a way that a small turnout could mean large numbers of people could have their future determined by a few, or by a different region.
Second, because as we saw in the Labour leadership election last year, it becomes possible under AV for your second or third choice to end up winning, which I think goes very much against the British sense of fairness. This could mean that leaders end up lacking popular support, which is so key when difficult decisions need to be made, because a second or third preference does not carry in my view the same weight as your first preference. How can we tolerate a system in which the losers win?
But lastly, and most importantly, because AV does not really address the problems that its architects say they want to address: the lack of accountability, trust, and general voter apathy towards its elected politicians. There are in my view many ways to achieve this through other reforms under First Past The Post, from mandating open primaries for all political parties to give candidates other than those officially endorsed by central offices the chance to stand for election, to addressing the West Lothian question to reserve English issues for English MPs to vote on, and the strengthening of local powers at parish and ward councillor level.
Indeed sadly it seems the motivation to change the system seems to have a political rather than logical motivation. We shall await today’s result but I for one hope we can adapt what we have which has worked for centuries, rather than bringing in a system irreversibly that does not seem sufficiently well thought through.
So there you have it. Time to choose wisely. I would urge everyone to express their preference in the referendum whatever view they take. Remember: you will only be able to express the one preference. Here’s hoping it stays that way!