In a recent blogpost covering the launch of Labour Yes, the Next Left blog invited Fabians from any side of the electoral reform argument to continue the debate about next year's referendum on the Alternative Vote. In this guest post, Fabian Executive member Austin Mitchell, MP for Great Grimsby, sets out why he disagrees with those supporters of proportional representation who think AV would be an advance on the status quo.
Ever since I’ve been an MP I’ve supported Proportional Representation. It’s the only fair system, relating seats to votes. It weakens the elective dictatorship and stops parties winning disproportionate majorities by effectively disenfranchising everyone who votes for minor political parties or for the opposition in seats the majority wins. It forces the parties to run national campaigns and mobilise support in safe seats rather than concentrating everything on a few score marginals. It allows us to cope with the emerging multi-party system in which ever smaller proportions vote for the two major parties.
For all these reasons I’ll be opposing the Alternative Vote (AV) and campaigning against my PR supporting friends who’re feeble mindedly supporting AV as a step along the road to reform, which it isn’t, or just for a change. When it’s a change for the worse.
We’re having a referendum on AV because the LibDems didn’t have the guts to demand a referendum on PR which they’ve always wanted. They weakly opted for AV instead because it’s the one system which benefits the LibDems as everyone’s soft second preference. That can give them up to 20 seats. It’s also a means of cementing the coalition with their new friends by winning Tory second preferences.
Some in the Labour Party have supported AV in the past because they want to show themselves as reformers, but didn’t have the guts or the brains to go for PR. This makes no sense, AV will be damaging to Labour. We’ll be no one’s second preference, not even that of the Scottish Nationalists, having been in bitter conflict for years. It constitutes a block on any party which can be projected as dangerously radical (as the Tory Press will portray us). In Australia, the Catholic Democratic Labour Party kept the Australian Labour Party out of power for nearly two decades after 1955 by giving their second preference to the Liberal Coalition.
I’m hoping that in the referendum we defeat AV. Referenda are conservative devices which tend to favour the status quo, particularly when the proposers are as unpopular as the coalition will be next May. In that case what’s the use of Labour associating itself with failure? Even if it wins, we lose through AV, and what’s also clear is that this is a massive dirty deal.
The redistribution required by a reduction in the number of MPs to 600 will benefit the Tories by up to twenty seats. Do we seriously want to double that by adding AV's benefit of twenty seats to the LibDems?
We’d be as soft in the head as we have always been in the heart to vote for such a double gerrymander. So I say to Ed Miliband and my PR supporting friends “think before you vote and even more before you campaign for this squalid system.”
Austin Mitchell is MP for Great Grimsby and a member of the Fabian Executive. All Fabian outputs represent the view of their authors, not the collective view of the Society. The Fabian Society will not take a collective view on the referendum, but we do want to encourage members to engage with the issues and campaigns engaged in this first national referendum for 35 years. The Next Left blog would welcome offers of further contributions from members on this topic.