Monday, 5 July 2010

Let's be AV'ing it!

Nick Clegg today made a statement in the House of Commons about three significant shifts in our electoral system.

The first is to fix the date of the next election for May 7th 2015 - in other words to introduce fixed term parliaments with the proviso that they can still be ended early if two thirds of the House of Commons demands it or if a new government cannot be formed within two weeks of a no confidence motion.

The second is to reduce the number of MPs. I'll blog about that later.

The final announcement was to confirm that the AV referendum will be held on May 5th next year - giving the chance for the system to be implemented in time for the next general election.

I'll be happily supporting a move to AV as it means that more votes will count. It's not perfect and it is not a proportional system. But it does mean a huge change, especially for smaller parties. If you are a Green, MK or UKIP supporter, you have traditionally gone to the polls knowing that your party has almost no chance of winning. Should you still back them or should you vote tactically for a party that can win? I respect those who still stuck to their guns, but I suspect that many smaller party supporters succumbed to the barrage of 'wasted vote' leaflets that came through their door from the bigger parties.

The same is true even for the bigger parties in parts of the country. In Cornwall, Labour has no chance of winning a seat and many Labour voters (perhaps outside Camborne and Redruth) have got used to backing the Lib Dems as the only hope of a non-Tory MP. I'm happy that AV will mean that they can now vote Labour as their first preference in the knowledge that their vote will not be a wasted one so long as they choose between the Lib Dems and Conservatives (still the front runners) before they stop allocating preferences.

What I would hope we get in this referendum is a genuine debate on the facts. There are decent arguments for the retention for First Past the Post, but the proponents of no change seem determined not to make them. Daniel Kawczinski, apparently the leader of the FPTP group of MPs, was trying to make the claim that if he only cast a Tory vote he would be disenfranchised compared to someone who was less firmly committed to a single party as 'they would have more votes than him'.

What utter rubbish.

In a constituency such as his, the Tories are always going to be in the top two and so his decision to firmly side with the Conservatives and no one else will make no odds. His personal second preference would never come into play. And even if it did and he declined to name a second choice then that's his decision.

And then there are the Labour Leadership candidates. All campaigned in the general election on a platform backing AV. Yet now Andy Burnham and Ed Balls are trying to say they oppose the move. Such a pity they didn't say it at the time. Or perhaps they are simply posturing for Labour Party votes now?

I fervently hope (but am not holding my breath) that the media will try to hold reasoned debates on the issue and not simply invite the antis (or indeed the advocates of change) to spout half truths and lies without opposition.

And, incidentally, top marks to Iain Dale for rubbishing the arguments of those who want to shift the referendum date. Their aim is to try to have such a low turnout that they can claim there is no mandate for change.

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