Conservatives may regret anti-AV stance

Politics in Great Britain can be incredibly backward. One of the things which is backward about it is its typical polling: this generally consists merely of headline figures allocating a certain percentage of the vote to each party. However, occasionally someone sensible does a bit more than this, and looks below the figures to ask questions such as “Which other parties would you consider voting for?”

When asked which other parties they would consider voting for, people in England and Wales (at least) show a surprising preparedness at least to contemplate voting Conservative. I say “surprising”, because the fundamentals of the Conservatives’ anti-AV stance in the 2011 referendum was that people should not be allowed to make choices beyond one party – and this was implicitly based on the assumption that no one whose first choice was for another party would make a later choice for the Conservatives. This assumption, like the Conservatives’ assumption about the supposed benefit of boundary changes to them, is demonstrably flawed.

Indeed, we can now paint a ludicrous FPTP picture which is now approaching probable: that the incumbent Conservative-LibDem coalition will attain an absolute majority of votes cast in Great Britain at the next General Election, and yet neither party will appear in the Government formed after it.

Let’s run through this again: it is now very possible, perhaps even probable, that the incumbent Government in the UK will be deemed “defeated”, even though it attained more than half the votes cast in the election!

In fact, it is even possible that the Conservatives will attain the highest vote share and the coalition they lead the absolute majority of votes cast, and yet a single opposition party will replace both of them in government. Is this not unbelievable?

Let’s try that one again: the exit poll comes in in 2015 demonstrating a vote share of Conservative 37%, Labour 36%, LibDem 15% – and this turns out to be accurate. It would almost certainly mean that the Conservatives – having increased their vote share, emerged as the largest party, and led the coalition to an absolute majority of votes cast – would be out of office replaced by a single-party Labour Government. Seriously, is there a democracy in the world which would allow this to happen and call itself civilised?

With AV, voters would at least be given the option of determining whether they really do support the coalition, or whether they support their own party but in fact are ambivalent over whether the current coalition should continue. LibDems in particular would be able to vote clearly in favour of an alliance with one or other of the bigger parties, thus demonstrating clearly whether a majority really supports the incumbent coalition or whether it in fact supports the “broad Left”.

There is a side to me which hopes the above scenario does happen. It would serve the “no” campaign right for a campaign which, 18 months on, was entirely disingenuous. But maybe I’m just being mischievous…


4 thoughts on “Conservatives may regret anti-AV stance

  1. James Campbell says:

    First: The ConDems will not be running mates either under FPTP or any other voting system. They will be advocating different policies. In fact because a candidate died days before the last General Election, in this constituency we had a by-election some weeks after the ConDems were married. The LibDem candidate on the advice of HQ fought on exactly the same prospectus as before the marriage. The new LibDem ethics at work there. AV inevitably means the introduction of some policies that the majority has rejected or never considered (eg NHS reconstruction on Tory lines).

    Second: Exactly the same scenario as you describe could arise under AV nationally; just not on a constituency basis.

    Third: Plurality of votes only matters theoretically in the US presidential elections; not at all in the US Senate. So you reckon the US isn’t civilised?

    Fourth: In the UK plurality of votes can be distorted eg by low turnout in individual constituencies where one candidate is a certainty. (The Labour vote in Barnsley is unlikely to record the number of Labour supporters in Barnsley; probably those voting for Nick Clegg in Sheffield at the next election will not reflect the LibDem support in Sheffield).

    From my nest here in Yorkshire I can assure you the only voters who positively support AV are some of those who will never get into power under FPTP. It is a recipe for fudge. A permanent consortium of minorities. A Local Assembly writ large. When Mr Clegg opted to help introduce Conservative values into the LibDem agendas for Education, the NHS and welfare, he destroyed the essence of the LibDems. All for a mess of pottage.

    And I am a supporter of AV in theory; just not a blind one in practice.

    • I’ll allow others to debate that, but as an aside on your third point, a conversation on the BBC’s “This Week” programme a few years back:

      Portillo: “We are clearly at the point where we can say no civilised society applies the death penalty.”
      Neill: “But some States in America have the death penalty!”
      Portillo [grins knowingly, says nothing]

  2. What AV leads to has to be seen from the point of view of the electorate not the candidate. The will of the electorate remains independent in any case, candidates are dependent on their parties and restrained by having to cooperate with said party and indeed perhaps coalition partners to find a compromise in either case, they are dependent on the voter for votes and the taxpayer for power. The main difference AV gives over FPTP is that the voter/taxpayer now has the chance to make compromised choices, I.e to limit their stake in one party rather than going all in on the one. It gives voters a politicised choice rather than simply a choice in politics, sometimes these politicised choices evolve new healthy realms of politics.

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