6 November 2010


Next year's promised referendum on changing the electoral system for Westminster elections from first-past-the-post to the alternative vote looks set to be an even damper squib than it did a couple of months ago now that Labour has announced that it will be not campaigning for a "yes" vote.

The "yes" campaign is likely to comprise only the Liberal Democrats, a smattering of Labour MPs, various small electoral reform lobbying groups and a handful of columnists in the upmarket press. And rather a lot of people in the "yes" camp will be campaigning half-heartedly or reluctantly because AV, in which you vote preferentially in single-member constituencies ("1, 2, 3, 4 ..." rather than "X"), is not a system of proportional representation, which is what they actually want. Indeed, I suspect that most supporters of a "yes" vote will justify their position on the grounds that AV would be a "step towards" PR.

As I've written before, I don't buy this argument. AV is not only not a system of proportional representation, it is in no sense a "step towards" it. In many circumstances it would yield results that were even less proportional than FPTP. And there is no evidence whatsoever to believe that introducing AV would unleash a dynamic successful movement for PR. (My hunch is that the reverse would happen, and that we'd be stuck with AV for the long term.)

Add the fact that AV has flaws that FPTP does not have - most notably that it gives the same weight to some voters' second (and third, and fourth ...) preferences that it gives to others' first preferences - and I really can't fathom why anyone who is serious about PR isn't campaigning for a "no". As a long-time supporter of PR, I feel like a vegetarian in a restaurant being offered the choice of pork and beef.

So although I'm glad that Labour has opted not to campaign for a "yes", I don't want to leave it there. On the other hand, I don't want to throw in my lot with the Tory "No 2 AV" crew or the neanderthal Labour defenders of the status quo. I've been discussing with a few friends the idea of setting up for setting up an "AV is not PR: vote 'No'!" campaign, and we're definitely going to go ahead. If you're interested – and if you've got any ideas for a snappy name for the campaign – email Gauche or use the comments box.
  • I've now launched a blog, AV IS NOT PR, to put the case for a "no" vote in the referendum on the grounds that proportional representation is not on offer.

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