Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Stuck in the middle with you

The Tory - Lib Dem coalition crystallises a monumental and frightening shift in British politics. Prior to the General Election last year there was a misplaced belief that the combined support for Labour and the Lib Dems represented a 'progressive consensus'. The acts of the government – spawned from the policies of New Labour – show that this is clearly untrue. The consensus which prevails is that of individualism, competition and marketisation. This right-wing swing means it's absolutely crucial that those on the left oppose the Alternative Vote – and the Lib Dems, by showing their true colours, are the ones to blame.

The arguments forwarded by the anti-AV brigade are largely flawed and self-defeating. Mehdi Hasan produced a terrific critique in the latest New Statesman:
The Alternative Vote isn't a foreign system. From trade unions to workplace committees, professional societies to student groups, millions of Britons already have experience of voting under AV. It doesn't require expensive voting machines, or cost £250m ... AV isn't a "confusing system" (David Cameron) or "fiendishly complicated" (Daily Mail). If the Australians can manage to rank candidates in a 1-2-3 order, so can we. AV doesn't automatically result in hung parliaments: over the past 100 years, Australia has had fewer hung parliaments under AV than the UK has had under FPTP. Meanwhile, Canada, despite using FPTP, has been beset by hung parliaments in recent years.
The arguments forwarded by the No to AV campaign are largely uninspiring because they are extolled by reactionary and conservative Westminster traditionalists. Arguments of complication and cost are largely irrelevant in terms of electoral reform and we should strive for a genuinely proportional system whatever the intellectual or financial cost. However AV is not a proportional system and – whatever the outcome of the referendum – it will delay moves to proportional representation. Furthermore – and by far the most compelling argument against AV – it will further entrench a centripetal party system which is becoming increasingly bland, centralised and uninspiring.

The key argument against AV is that – far from increasing choice – AV acts to eliminate differences between parties and, therefore, reduces choice. Parties are forced to compete for second preference votes and this, inevitably, blunts radicalism and forces parties to compete for the centre ground. The coalition has forced the shift of the political playground to the right and, as a result, Labour will have to further reconfigure their policies in line with market forces in order to win second preference votes from Tories and Lib Dems. For this reason – and to ensure Labour doesn't slip further to the right – the Alternative Vote should be opposed by socialists and progressives and we should champion a genuinely proportional system.

AV is not about increasing representation or democratisation, it is about ensuring the supremacy of liberal individualism and marketisation. We stand at a political crossroads: the expenses scandal – coupled with the Lib Dems' public sacrifice of manifesto commitments – has eroded people's faith in government; the organised labour movement – facing an unprecedented assault on public services – is reawakening from its slumber to lead the fightback. It is hoped that AV will be a political apathy panacea but, in the long term, by encouraging the convergence of party politics, the erosion of public support in government will be even greater.

Prior to the General Election, Nick Clegg described the Alternative Vote as "a miserable little compromise" (NB: he may have been describing himself). It pains me to say it but, with regards to that quote, I agree with Nick.


Strafio said...

Do you have to be a dull generic centrist to win majority support? Is that what makes a candidate popular? Most parties used a form of AV to elect their leaders - are Ed Milliband, Nick Clegg and Caroline Lucas "dull centrists"? Are Ken Livingstone and Boris Johnson who won mayoral elections under AV "dull centrists"?

I think that to win high preferences you need to stand out. You need to understand problems and have creative solutions to them. It won't be enough to appeal to armchair ideology of a small faithful.

More importantly, independents and smaller parties will no longer be squeezed by tactical voting. With new contenders having a fairer chance, I think that voters will have more choice.

Credit for at least presenting an intelligent argument rather than going along with the inane scaremongering of our mainstream opponents! :)

Anonymous said...

Yeh disagree entirely. Majority support isn't alwasy for the most average candidate. And the picture assumes you would number a preference who you genuinely didn't like, no-one would put a number next to someone they don't like.

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