Sunday, 5 September 2010


There is a raging debate going on over at ConservativeHome, I stole this comment from a fellow commentator.

It is disingenuous to suggest that a different voting system isn't a leap in the dark. It will change the dynamic of politics in ways that are unpredictable.

Lib Dems hope that a) it will benefit them (and according to the psephological analyses that have been published so far, which mostly ignore the potentially destabilising effects of other parties, that would come mostly at the expense of the Tories and increase the frequency of hung Parliaments and coalition government), and b) it is viewed as a necessary stepping stone towards their goal of elections by STV (which will doubtless be proposed for whatever replaces the Lords - and sold as being "not much different from AV").

The potential effects of other parties is interesting. Your own constituency of Batley and Spen, or the battle for Morley and Outwood that nearly saw Ed Balls unseated are interesting cases in point. A large BNP vote emerged that was a key part of the dividing line between the parties. Such a vote would under AV if anything increase, since AV imposes no penalty whatever on making a first preference protest vote - such votes are no longer "wasted", because there is always a second or lower preference vote that will count. Faced with polling that tells you 15% of constituents will give BNP first preference, what do you do? Ignore them, and hope the other candidates will as well? Or find a way to try to appeal to them for a second preference? Or accuse your opponents of being nasty BNP supporters when they do? Is Cameron going to carry on calling UKIP a bunch of fruitcakes and try turning the Tories into an overtly Europhile party? What will Labour and Lib Dems do as more voters express say Green protest votes? AV has a potential to radicalise politics, rather than move it to the centre or leave it at the status quo.

In Australia, AV resulted in essence in a two party system with fringe parties - much as the UK was 50 years ago - which made it indistinguishable from a FPTP system. That dynamic appears to be breaking up there, with over 18% of first preference votes at the recent election going to other parties and independents.

We do not know the outcome that a change to AV will produce, despite the simplistic analyses of psephologists who pretend to know the answers. We might see a return to two party politics, with no significant third party, or a radicalisation of politics with strong influences from minority parties on policies (both outcomes that interestingly might damage the Lib Dems); or we may see a move towards frequent hung Parliaments with Lib Dems holding the balance of power and post-election coalition deals that voters can only guess at in the ballot box.

You pretend that AV will legitimise politicians. The degree of collective mandate in the minds of people isn't really fundamentally changed by the voting system, because the problems with politics at the moment are not really about the voting system at general elections at all - except for such issues as postal voting and electoral register fraud that are not being addressed by this bill.

Carswell and Hannan understand that politics has become debased by the centralised party machines that dictate who the candidates are and what they are permitted to say. Too many MPs are simply lobotomised lobby fodder. MPs in general are held in low esteem by the public, who do not consider them to be worth their salaries that are only two thirds of the earnings of a supervisor of a handful of social workers. We're paying peanuts and duly getting the monkeys.

That we reached such a level of economic crisis under the last Labour government is real testimony to the failure of MPs of all parties to scrutinise policy adequately. Surely even Labour didn't really want the credit crunch? (Well, perhaps Brown did, seeing an opportunity to "blame it on the Tories" as much more important than the health of the nation).

There really are far more pressing areas of political reform that are needed. Proper primary elections as advocated by Hannan and Carswell might help. Attracting people of quality and independence of mind into politics would also be highly beneficial - certainly compared with the Harman equalities agenda, which is simply a mechanism that tries to hide lobby fodder in full view with the effectiveness of an elephant standing in the Serengetti plain. Why are we so dependent on well paid quangocrats, rather than well paid politicians for real policy decisions?

At the moment AV is looking like the wrong answer to the wrong question.

No comments: