Harry Phibbs: What Winston Churchill said on AV
Historians have recently highlighted Winston Churchill's warning against the Alternative Vote. He said it would mean elections being determined by "the most worthless votes given for the most worthless candidates."
The whole speech is well worth reading. He is supportive of electoral reform but he says the proposed change to AV "adds new features of caprice and uncertainty to the conduct of each individual election."
He goes on:
The plan that they have adopted is the worst of all possible plans. It is the stupidest, the least scientific and the most unreal that the Government have embodied in their Bill. The decision of 100 or more constituencies, perhaps 200, is to be determined by the most worthless votes given for the most worthless candidates.
That is what the Home Secretary told us to-day was "establishing democracy on a broader and surer basis." Imagine making the representation of great constituencies dependent on the second preferences of the hindmost candidates. The hindmost candidate would become a personage of considerable importance, and the old phrase, "Devil take the hindmost," will acquire a new significance. I do not believe it will be beyond the resources of astute wire-pullers to secure the right kind of hindmost candidates to be broken up in their party interests.
There may well be a multiplicity of weak and fictitious candidates in order to make sure that the differences between No. 1 and No. 2 shall be settled, not by the second votes of No. 3, but by the second votes of No. 4 or No. 5, who may, presumably give a more favourable turn to the party concerned. This method is surely the child of folly, and will become the parent of fraud. Neither the voters nor the candidates will be dealing with realities. An element of blind chance and accident will enter far more largely into our electoral decisions than even before, and respect for Parliament and Parliamentary processes will decline lower than it is at present.
"I am pleading for structure in defence of our parliamentary institutions. I still believe in a great Empire united and guided by a great House of Commons and a teeming population of free citizens in this island, whose welfare does not decline. But, when I see this Bill and know, as I do perfectly well, all the forces, all the misunderstanding, all the stupidity, all the cunning, all the desperation, which have brought it about, it is impossible not to feel profoundly anxious."