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Would unpopular legislation be harder to pass if Britain adopts AV?

Tim Montgomerie


In this week's Spectator James Forsyth uses his weekly political column (not yet online) to discuss the AV referendum.

Most voters haven't yet thought about the subject and so polls such as today's - showing the referendum as too close to call - tell us little. James notes that the Pro-AV campaign may raise three times as much as the Anti-AV campaign; giving it a significant advantage in a contest where getting-out-the-vote will be crucial.

The anti-AV campaign will be helped if (a) Fleet Street comes out strongly against change and (b) the campaign becomes a referendum on Nick Clegg, tuition fees and broken promises.

What most caught my eye in James's column was the section on what would happen if AV passes. He predicts that MPs will become super-sensitive to campaigns in their constituencies on issues such as forestry privatisation. Advocates of AV will see this as a powerful argument for electoral change, forcing MPs to listen more carefully to voters. Opponents will see it as confirmation of their view that AV will produce weak, lowest common denominator government. Here are James's words:

"If AV passed, Cameron would find managing his parliamentary party almost impossible. Suddenly, the priority for Tory MPs would be to make themselves acceptable as a second choice to those who didn’t vote for them last time rather than supporting the government’s agenda... Tory MPs get agitated as soon as negative emails from constituents appear in their inboxes. When, for instance, the recent campaign against privatising the Forestry Commission got going, MPs started privately pushing for a U-turn... Some would say that anything which makes MPs more prepared to defy the whips is a good thing. But the problem is that AV would encourage MPs to be simply blown along by public opinion. For a Prime Minister who wants his government to lead, this would be a disaster."


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