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Can unions, Tories and advocates of proportional representation unite to defeat AV?

By Tim Montgomerie

Most recent attention has understandably focused on attempts to change the date of the AV referendum but we must not neglect the wider challenge of securing a 'no' vote. The Independent on Sunday reports that the GMB union is ready to give a six figure sum to help defeat AV.

The pro and anti-AV campaigns are each allowed to spend up to £5m, including £600,000 from the taxpayer. IoS reporter Matt Chorley also notes that both the campaigns "will be allowed TV broadcasts, free leaflet delivery to voters [and] free use of public rooms for meetings".

A number of Labour MPs are expected to join with Tory MPs and nationalists to campaign for a "no" vote if and when the British people are asked the AV question:

"Do you want the United Kingdom to adopt the 'alternative vote' system instead of the current 'first past the post' system for electing Members of Parliament to the House of Commons?"

The anti-AV will crowd will succeed if they pull off the trick played by Australian monarchists when their country rejected a presidential system in 1999. The Australian parliament proposed that it choose the nation's president. The idea was defeated when monarchists united with those who wanted a directly-elected president. The anti-AV campaign needs to unite defenders of first-past-the-post with supporters of proportional representation who (a) recognise that AV is not proportional and (b) that their chances of PR will be lost for at least one generation as the British people are unlikely to change the electoral system again for some time. Pro-PR Fred Carver made this case very recently on LibDemVoice. if AV is presented as "the worst of all worlds" it might yet be stopped.

So far, so encouraging for anti-AV Tories but Labour MP Tom Harris may be on to something with his calculation that Coalition unpopularity may be the best hope of defeating AV. On his blog he suggests a campaign poster that could tap anti government feeling:

Screen-shot-2010-07-31-at-23-1.54.321 I don't think you have to believe that a 'no' to AV would bring down the Coalition to agree that some voters might be motivated by the opportunity.


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