The random witterings of Jonathan Morris, writer.

Tuesday, 4 January 2011

Vote You

Bit of politics. But it’s not party politics, so that’s okay.

Why the Alternative Vote system is a bad idea. I’ll go through the arguments in favour of it and explain why they’re wrong.

* The current system is unfair and does not deliver proportional results.

Nor does AV. If the last election had been held using the AV system, the resulting seat numbers per party would have been virtually identical.

* AV is the first step towards proportional representation.

No, it’s a sidetrack. The Lib Dems were given the opportunity at the election to form a coalition with Labour in return for a referendum on full proportional representation. Instead, they opted for a coalition with the Conservatives in return for a referendum on AV. Entirely their prerogative, and other factors were, of course, involved. But a referendum on the voting system doesn’t create hunger for yet more referenda. It takes a problem, marks it ‘solved’ and puts it back on the shelf for a generation. I’m in favour of proportional representation, for a second house at least. A vote in favour of AV makes that less likely; whereas if AV is rejected, a referendum for PR remains a possibility.

* AV will encourage more people to vote.

How? Safe seats will remain safe seats. Narrowly-contested seats will remain narrowly-contested; if people aren’t prepared to vote when a government has a small majority, and where their local MP doesn’t even have a majority, then switching to AV won’t persuade them. In fact, given that AV would mean more MPs getting elected that simply tow the party line (see my final point) it would actually make politics less interesting and vibrant.

* AV is fairer.

How can a system be fair where somebody who votes for an extremist no-hope-of-getting-elected party gets more votes counted than someone who votes for a mainstream party? If you vote Labour or Conservative, chances are you’ll only have one vote and your second, third preferences won’t get counted. The current system is flawed, of course it is, but it’s transparently flawed. Everyone knows what the flaws are and votes accordingly. But I’d say the principle of one vote per person, each person having an equal say irrespective of their voting preference, is sacrosanct. AV would do away with that and would mean that, in elections fought between two popular parties, the outcome could be decided by the allegiance of the followers of the third, least popular party (cf 2010 General Election result).

And finally, and most importantly

* The current system is flawed because MPs can get elected without getting an overall majority of the vote.

This is not a fault. This is a feature. MPs getting elected without an overall majority is a good thing. Why? Because an MP who doesn’t have an overall majority knows that their constituency can quite easily get rid of them at the next election, so they’re going to work bloody hard to make sure they get re-elected. Their first loyalty, their top priority, is going to be working for their constituents. Whereas MPs who have overall majorities (which would always be the case with AV) owe their election to their allegiance to a political party, so their first loyalty and top priority is going to be towing the party line*. AV would make it less likely for independently-minded, locally-responsible MPs to be elected and instead just encourages lobby fodder who are only interested in climbing the greasy pole by sucking up to their leader. You want your MP to care about whether your local hospital stays open, the standards of your local schools, police force, businesses, environment? Then don’t vote for AV.

* This is also a problem with PR, which is why it should only be used for the second house.