Some final thoughts on AV and the referendum


So yesterday was the big day and, as promised here, I went to cast my vote in favour of changing the UK election system to Alternative Vote rather than keep with First Past the Post. Sadly, only 31.9999% (approx.) of the UK population agreed with me, and so things will remain as they were.

I was interested to see the Daily Telegraph’s map of the voting in the referendum. Zoom in on the map using the helpful buttons in the top left hand corner, and among the vast swathes of the rather sickly yellowy colour that represented the areas that votes “No”, you will find a tiny handful of purplish areas that voted “Yes” (by a relatively small margin in each case). These are : Cambridge, Oxford, Glasgow (Kelvin), Edinburgh Central, and six London boroughs. Hmm.

The result seems to have been influenced by a number of factors, not the least being that electoral reform is widely seen as a LibDem issue, despite having the support of Ed Milliband and a significant number of senior Labour Party people. Yesterday was the day that many of the British electorate took the opportunity to take a kick at the LibDems in general, and at their leader, Nick Clegg, in particular. As the weather was good, the turnout was a relatively high one for a local election. Another factor was that the change on offer was to the Alternative Vote system which is widely recognised as giving preferential rather than proportional representation. It therefore does not meet the aspirations of many who nevertheless want a reform that delivers PR.

For myself, amid the disappointment and frustration with the result, I have found myself becoming increasingly an advocate of AV rather than PR (which was my preferred choice at the start of the campaign). One advantage of AV is that it still retains the personal link of the MP with the constituency in a way that STV and list systems do not. One is still voting for people rather than for rather anonymous yes-men and women chosen according to a party’s dictates. This means it is possible to vote for someone you know will do a good job and give their best efforts to representing their constituents, even if you don’t particularly care for aspects of their party’s policies. One also continues to have input into the decision-making process on an equal footing with everyone else even if one’s first preference candidate enjoys only minority support. These, I have come to think, are features worth having, even though it is obvious most other people think otherwise.

So for now, it seems, electoral reform has been kicked into the long grass and we will be left with FPTP for at least the next few years. Indeed some are saying that that is it for another generation. Yesterday seemed on the surface to be a return to the old two-party politics we have known so well. But the local government elections that ran concurrently with the referendum I think showed a great deal of dissatisfaction with current government policies. Yesterday it was Nick Clegg and the LibDems that bore the brunt of this, but in due course I believe that David Cameron and the Tories will come in for their fair share of criticism and blame too.

So I expect to see a continuing fragmentation of British politics and growing support for parties other than Tory and Labour. The thirst for “a new kind of politics”, one that is less confrontational, that showed itself at the general election last year is, I think, still there even though it has received a bit of a knock. And if I’m right, then I think we might find that electoral reform comes back onto the agenda rather more quickly than many people expect just now. And when it does, I suspect that a wider range of options, including forms of proportional representation, might then be on offer.