Saturday 8 May 2010

Eurosceptic Tories for the Alternative Vote?

The Daily Mail asks Did UKIP cost the Tories ten seats?

Tim Montgomerie of ConservativeHome highlights twenty-one seats where the UKIP vote was greater than the Labour majority over the Conservatives, to ask whether UKIP cost the Tories a majority.

The correct answer to that question is 'No'. And Montgomerie notes the caveat that not all of these voters would have voted Conservative if no Ukip candidate had stood. Many may not have voted at all, and some may have cast an anti-politics "protest" vote for another small party, or the Liberal Democrats, rather than a Eurosceptic vote for the Tories. Great Grimsby is on the list, where the Labour MP Austin Mitchell is among the most Eurosceptic MPs in the Commons.

Montgomerie suggests that UKIP should have stood down in seats that the Conservatives needed to win. But Euroceptics might regard that as a call for unilateral disarmament given that they anticipate that Cameron may well sell out or water down his Euroscepticism.

Others will argue that it shows that the problem was that David Cameron was not Eurosceptic enough: this assumes that a policy such as a post-ratification referendum on the Lisbon Treaty would not have lost him votes elsewhere, if challenged as a threat to British membership of the EU, and a distraction from the economy and public finances.

The logic of the point could be for 'better off out' Eurosceptic Tories to promote a change of the electoral system - perhaps to a majoritarian, preferential system such as the Alternative Vote.

UKIP itself favours the more proportional AV+ system, as recommended by Roy Jenkins. This again would allow UKIP voters to switch to Conservative or other candidates in constituences where not one of the main contenders for the seat, while giving the party some chance of Commons representation (though not without significantly increasing their national share of the vote).

The strategic logic of first-past-the-post is that parties and candidates must compete most ferociously with those who they are ideologically closest too - for example, Greens and Liberal Democrats in university towns, or Ukippers and Tory traditionalists in the 'sceptic Tory shires. The pluralist effect of AV or AV+ is to make cross-party cooperation with ideological allies possible, while both systems retain a bias towards majority governments. (This is somewhat weaker, by design, under AV+, but this would tend to give parties a majority around the 40%+ mark).

The idea that this would lead to a permanent Lab-Lib stitch up is obviously a myth, as the London Supplementary Vote victory for Boris Johnson shows.

The most likely outcome of an AV or AV+ election would probably have led first to similar negotiations between the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats as are now taking place after a first-past-the-post election.

It will be increasingly difficult to argue that this is a unique weakness of alternative more proportional or pluralist electoral systems, without those who argue this setting out how it will be possible to engineer a significant reverse in the long-term fragmentation of the two-party vote under the current system. While there were less than a dozen 'minor' party MPs between 1945 and 1970: there have been over 75 since 1997, with 92 in the last Parliament and 85 in this one.

This could well make hung Parliaments more likely than not under first-past-the-post in future elections.


Roger Thornhill said...

The piece by Tim Montgomerie was almost scapegoating. It does him/ConHome no favours.

UKIP even offered to capitulate if Cameron became "cast iron" again, but this was rejected/ignored. Possibly hubris?

If anything, the rejection might have increased the UKIP vote, because it forced Cameron to show his hand or lack of concern in this area.

Regardless, UKIP's position was on their tin, and Cameron had plenty of time to lance that boil if he chose to. He did not. The blame for any losses lies with Team Dave IMHO.

Bill Kristol-Balls said...

Very interesting piece.

Obviously the Tories will not be embracing STV and the Lib Dems will not be sticking with FPTP so AV seems a reasonable compromise for both.

For the Tories, the constituency link is maintained and they may benefit from 2nd preference votes from UKIP and even LD in some places.

For the Libs, it's my impression that tactical voting and the 'wasted vote' argument cost them if not millions of votes then certainly a few hundred thousand. Given the tiny majorities they lost by in seats such as Falmouth, AV may well have given them a significantly increased number of seats.

This is of course speculation but it would be interesting to see some hard data / polling on it.

AV has the advantage of being a Labour manifesto commitment as well so should get through the Commons, even if lots of Tories rebelled.

The Speakers conference is a joke offer, AV should be agreed on, referendum in 1 year and put in place for the subsequent election if passed.