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Friday, July 02, 2010 

The alternative vote and left-wing scuffles.

Normally I'd be inclined to agree with Sunny's depiction of those on the left who are opposed to the alternative vote. The history of the left is one of disputes, scuffles over incredibly minor details, and a fundamental failing to work together when the common "enemy" is the ascendant, most disastrously in 1983.

The problem is that AV has only one real positive over first past the post: that the winner, once the votes have been reassigned, has majority support, something which is wholly lacking in FPTP and leaves us with all but rotten boroughs in certain areas. The downsides are that it isn't proportional, still leaving us with a system where many votes will be all but wasted, has the potential, although rarely, to be even less proportional than FPTP and could well lead to the crowding out of the major parties of either left and right in certain areas, further fuelling resentment and disengagement with the political process. Formerly it was the consensus that any variety of voting reform, whether AV or a form or proportional representation, would favour the left. This is no longer the case: under FPTP the assumption is that next time the Liberal Democrats are likely to be punished for allying themselves with the Conservatives; under AV you'd suspect that the Liberal Democrats would be the main beneficiaries of second or third Tory preference votes, something that would more than protect them from potential oblivion, especially in Scotland.

Furthermore, the argument that not supporting AV will put the voting reform debate back another generation works both ways. Whichever way the referendum goes, voting reform will be off the agenda for years to come, the opponents pointing either to the rejection or the approval for why (more) change isn't necessary. It's true that incremental reform has in the past often inexorably led to further reform (the representation of the people acts since 1832 are a great example of this), but it still takes decades. AV was a compromise too far by the Liberal Democrats; they should have at the least held out for a referendum on AV+, which they almost certainly would have got and would have, through the additional element to the system, been at least somewhat proportional. It might well be true that there is no political enthusiasm for proportional representation at the moment, but a Lab-Lib coalition, despite lacking legitimacy would probably have at least resulted in a free choice referendum on which voting system to support, instead of the dichotomy of slight reform or bust. Labour would have also been far more likely to support the lesser forms of AV/PR in such a situation than the Tories, who are almost to a man opposed to any change.

If I've made the case here somewhat for why to support AV, it's also easy to understand why some will still oppose it and why it's not worth denouncing them for doing so. For the supporters of the minor parties it will make next to no difference; it will add an extra veneer of choice, but not one big enough to do anything except further help to establish a three-party democracy. This is preferable to a two-party one which many countries still find themselves stuck with, but as we've seen the policy differences we formerly thought were big enough to lure voters who would normally stick with the party they are most sympathetic towards have suddenly shrunk hugely. AV would be a slight step forward, but it's one that's so tiny that it's hardly worth voting for and so is not exactly going to inspire many to turnout next May when they otherwise wouldn't have done; that, indeed, is it's other biggest problem.

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All fair points, one you are electing a single person as Mayor, etc, its an excellent system but it should not be confused with PR.

For Green Party supporters like myself, a vote either way looks like shutting off the opportunity for a proportional system, damned if we do damned if we don't, we need to focus on the arguments for PR

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