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A referendum on AV? Not without more options

I am unconvinced of the case for reforming the voting system, and not just because of the gerrymandering which Nick Clegg is trying to squeeze into what John Prescott calls the poisonous package. But if there is a national debate about it, it should be about all the options not just one.

According the poll conducted by Politics Home, that is what Labour, Lib Dem and non-aligned voters overwhelmingly want. It’s also what about half of all voters who express a preference want (the rest being split bewtween no referendum and the one that’;s offered on AV.

(%) Which of the following would be your preferred situation regarding a referendum on voting reform?
Total Con Lab LD None
A referendum as reported 27 33 26 26 22
No referendum 20 34 14 3 14
A referendum including a wider range of options for voting reform 46 27 54 67 51
Don’t Know 7 6 6 4 13

Every system has its advantages and disadvantages, its winners and losers in any scenario. There’s much talk of “fairness” — who could be against that — but very little clarity on precise objectives.

Take AV, for example, which most projections, like this one, suggest would make relatively little difference to outcomes: the objective could be to give voters the feeling of empowerment. But would that largely illusory feeling really reconnect voters to the political process? And if it makes so little difference, just how much “fairer” can it be?

Other systems would make a bigger difference, and provide bigger benefits or disbenefits for individual parties. But how they measure up depends on what objectives we are measuring them against?

All governments do things which many people disagree with. Probably almost everyone would disagree with several things that any conceivable government would do. But exactly what we should do about that depends on how we want to balance different aspects of government, like strength and stability, and different approaches to accountability, like local and national, and on the emphasis we place on the responsiveness of government rather than having a voice in parliament.

You may well argue that a more open debate about the options may prevent change. But if we can’t agree on the objectives and we aren’t interested in the details, maybe that’s the right outcome.


  1. unseen says:

    A “there should be more options” option will always attract people in a poll. doesn’t mean anything.

  2. Jon Lansman says:

    More people yes, but not roughly half the population. And, in any case, it doesn’t affect the principle that a debate on new structures without a debate on the underlying objectives is worthless.

  3. Jeremy Sutcliffe says:

    AV is not PR. I don’t believe that there is any evidence to suggest that candidates elected by AV will reflect the ratio of AV first preferences any more that candidates elected by FPTP reflect the ratio of votes cast now.

    What surprises me is that we do not see leading figures promote the AM system that we see in Scotland Wales and London for regional assemblies/parliaments.

  4. Richard Martin says:

    A negative result in the AV referendum would be presented in the media as an out-right rejection of all forms of electoral reform. In so far as PR is the ultimate goal, AV must be supported for this reason. The ‘news’ that a referendum with more options would be preferable is hardly news at all, and to a degree risks obscuring this reason for supporting AV.

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