All our hopes of proper electoral reform were dashed this evening when the details of the Conservative-Lib Dem coalition were released. Rather than holding out for PR, the Lib Dems have sold out for a referendum on the ‘AV’ (Alternative Vote) system.
Firstly, and most importantly, AV is not a form of proportional representation in any way. It is merely a modified method of electing each individual constituency MP.
Not only is AV more complicated than the existing FPTP system, its impact will be minimal, shuffling a few seats between the major parties. It will not add any MPs from any of the smaller parties and will only add confusion to the voting procedure.
Bizarrely, neither the Tories nor the Lib Dems had a commitment to the AV system in their manifestos. So we have now been lumbered with a vote on a system that not a single person who voted for either party actually voted in support of. With all the talk of mandates and listening to the wishes of the public, how on earth do they justify this referendum?
The big question that has struck me though is this: who will campaign for AV in the referendum?
The Conservative party is against electoral reform, and they have stated that they will campaign in favour of FPTP.
Labour cynically added a commitment to a referendum on AV to their manifesto after 13 years of Government to make themselves look like reformers. Let’s not forget that a promise of a referendum on PR was in their 1997 too, yet nothing came of it. The Labour party doesn’t want reform – they gain too much from FPTP.
The Lib Dems support the STV system, not AV. In fact AV will not significantly address the disparity between the Lib Dem vote share and the ridiculously small number of MPs they have in Westminster. Lib Dem support for AV will be lukewarm at best.
So what about all of the activists who have campaigned so fiercely for electoral reform over the past few months and years? Very few of them would even vote for AV, let alone campaign for it.
In the end, this referendum on AV could be a total waste of everyone’s time with no substantial campaign and little enthusiasm for the Yes side.
A referendum result against a switch to AV would be heralded by the defenders of FPTP as a clear indication that the British public are not interested in reform.
This unwanted, mandate-free referendum on a system that no one really wants could severely damage the call for real electoral reform.