On ConservativeHome yesterday, Janice Small – the director of Conservative Action for Electoral Reform (CAER) – explained why Conservatives should vote ‘Yes’ to the Alternative Vote. Unsurprisingly perhaps, in my new role as Campaign Director of the No2AV campaign, I disagree with her. I disagree because:
“AV is not … a proportional system. In some elections it could even produce more distorted results than the present first-past-the-post system. AV would not guarantee a more representative parliament or one better able to hold the government to account. … The public will not see this as correcting a broken system; most agree that the system is broken because of the MPs' expenses scandal, the lack of accountability and a government that makes up legislation as it goes along, rather than getting to grips with the real problems of a broken economy and a broken society.”
These are not my words, but Janice’s, writing for Comment is Free in February of this year. Janice’s article was in response to the announcement that Gordon Brown would be including a pledge in the Labour manifesto to hold a referendum on the Alternative Vote. She went on to argue that:
“The only reason that Labour is now proposing the AV system is because they see electoral advantage in it. … This will be unpopular with his voters and leave the electorate with a very sour taste in its mouth if we are in hung parliament territory come the general election.”
In yesterday’s article, Janice hit the nail on the head when she wrote that “those who focus on crude party political outcomes are missing the point”. This referendum (should it go ahead in May) is about much more than partisan politics or whether one system favours one party or another. It is about the democratic future of our country.
Like so many who are in support of electoral reform, Janice’s article for Comment is Free suggests that she is actually quite sceptical of the potential of AV to change anything. She finished this article by saying:
“Let us have a proper debate on the different systems, finish Lords reform and abolish the undemocratic closed list system for MEPs, before changing the Westminster system – otherwise, it will, rightly, just be seen as cynical gerrymandering.”
I agree that First-Past-The-Post (FPTP) isn’t perfect – it could be improved by the introduction of recall of MPs, Open Primaries and Citizens’ Initiatives – but it is decisive. It has arguably produced the result that the country needed at every election, including the coalition that saw the country through WW2 to the current coalition that is fighting the financial hole we are in today. It is transparent and it is accountable.
I’m looking forward to listening to the debate in the House of Commons this afternoon, as MPs consider the constitutional issues involved in the timing of the referendum and whether there should be a threshold. Whatever Parliament decides is the fairest playing field for the referendum, I look forward to debating these issues further with Janice Small and her colleagues at Conservative Action for Electoral Reform over the coming year.