Janice Small is director of Conservative Action for Electoral Reform and fought the key marginal of Batley and Spen at the general election, gaining an additional 5,000 votes.
In the tribal world of party politics, MPs and party members are often wary of any change tabled by their opponents. It is no surprise, then, that voters and politicians alike have struggled to come to terms with the Coalition’s promised referendum on the Alternative Vote.
This unease is rooted in history. Most Conservatives will remember New Labour’s promise to look at a more proportional voting system in their 1997 manifesto. Back then, it was seen as a way of sidelining the Conservatives and strengthening the Lib-Lab bloc. The issue, like so many others, was ultimately kicked into the long grass, but it left Conservatives with a lasting suspicion of voting reform. A suspicion that is, in fact, unfounded. The 1867 change in the voting system was widely hailed at the time as a ‘leap in the dark’ and a ‘conservative surrender’. However, the act arguably cemented Tory party dominance throughout the early 20th century.
The Alternative Vote (AV) is a different kettle of fish. It would not profoundly change the ‘shape’ of our election results, but rather the strength of our MPs’ mandates. It is a much needed upgrade to ‘First Past the Post’ – not a step into the uncharted territory of proportional representation.
Many Conservatives acknowledge the need for voting reform of some kind. Accountability and transparency are modern conservative values, which ensure that the marketplace of ideas functions effectively. But while some reforms, including open primaries, recall votes, and local referendums, have gained currency in Conservative circles – and I am a big supporter of Douglas Carswell and Dan Hannan as two of the greatest thinkers in our party for putting these ideas forward – there is still a fear that the Alternative Vote will benefit the left-leaning parties.