Tuesday 9 June 2009

What is the Alternative Vote? Essential reading

The BBC reports that Gordon Brown is announcing plans to consider electoral reform - with the Alternative Vote, rather than a PR-system.

The details are hazy: I expect it will lead to Labour endorsing the Alternative Vote in its own manifesto, but the more important question is whether there will be plans for a referendum either before or at the same time as the General Election. There is no prospect of a change for the next election.

For background, my Fabian essay How to reform the electoral system in Autumn 2007 set out the case for the Alternative Vote as the best way to build a consensus for reform, if combined with a PR-elected second chamber.

Peter Facey reflecting on this - and similar proposals from John Denham - argued it was an imperfect reform, which would improve the current system but not make every vote count equally.

A very informative and well informed study of - A better Alternative? - was published by Lewis Baston of the Electoral Reform Society, noting that it is not a proportional system, but suggesting it may have greater merits than supporters of PR have tended to acknowledge.

Peter Kellner's submission to the Jenkins Commission suggested that the Alternative Vote was the best system at balancing the various goals of electoral systems - in offering voters a clear choice of governments while being fairer to different parties. Kellner also deals in detail with the issue of AV's ability to offer even larger majorities than FPTP in some circumstances - such as 1997 - pointing out that (unilke under FPTP) a government needs to be generally popular with voters across parties for this to happen.

On past form, one can expect the Conservative response to be pretty ill informed about the issues at stake in voting reform.

For example, Jonathan Isaby is already mistakenly referring to "plans to adopt the alternative vote system of proportional representation". AV is not Proportional Representation.

The Conservatives may also claim that the system would be biased against them.

But academic experts disagree with this - certainly in present circumstances.

The transfers in the London Mayoral election showed that (which is the SV system, a simpler system in that it only allows second preferences), while last week's results showed an 'anybody but Labour' effect which would harm Labour under AV if it remained this unpopular.

On the whole, AV might reinforce Cameronism - because it rewards the breadth of appeal of a party's candidates, rather than an intense appeal to a core vote on a low turnout - but Eurosceptics might well also want to take some interest in a system which enables transfers between UKIP and the Tories without the problem of 'wasted votes' just as it does for progressive voters sympathetic to the Greens or other smaller parties.


Wayne Smith said...

AV is phony reform. Pretty much the same people get elected, only with even less diversity.

Letters From A Tory said...

AV might help Cameron at this very moment in time, but at this point in the electoral cycle this is hardly surprising. In the long run over two whole electoral cycles (20-25 years), the Conservatives would lose out in my opinion. The Lib Dems / SDP and Labour will always be naturally closer (plus the Greens), leaving the Conservatives facing a much more difficult task.

Byrnetofferings said...

Are you sure this isn't a ploy to kill of the Liberal Democrats?