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AV = DI (Disproportionate Influence)

What have the Labour Yes campaign got to say to Labour voters in Oldham East and Saddleworth? Just look at the figures in the recent by-election. Labour beat the Lib Dems by about 3,500 votes. Meanwhile, the Tories and other right-wing anti-Labour parties attracted over 8,000 votes. Had these 8,000 had the option, which the Alternative Vote (AV) would allow, of casting an additional second preference vote, it is hardly fanciful to assume that Labour would have lost. Instead of Debbie Abrahams, Oldham would have sent another supporter of the Con-Dem cuts to parliament.

The Lib Dem espousal of AV is in no way surprising. They would clearly do better under an undemocratic system that allows the positive first preferences of some voters to be negated by the second (and even lower) preferences of others.

The Lib Dems want perpetual coalitions in which they as the third party (like the FDP in Germany) can always expect to be in government and wield a degree of influence far above their actual level of support. They used to want Proportional Representation. Their real aim is Disproportional Influence.

Coalitions can occasionally occur under First-Past-The-Post but under AV they’d become the norm in Britain rather than the exception.

Below are a number of the arguments against AV. One major reason for campaigning for a No Vote in the AV referendum is that a public rejection of AV could seriously disrupt the coalition which is bent on undermining the post war welfare state of the 1945 Labour Government. Please take these arguments forward to your General Committee and local party meetings. The chances of getting another majority Labour Government is in the balance.

Arguments against AV

  • AV benefits the Lib Dems. It has been estimated by the British election study team at Essex University that under AV the number of Lib Dem MPs would rise from 57 to 89, while the Tories would drop from 307 to 285 and Labour from 258 to 248.
  • The only countries using AV are Australia, Fiji and the Pacific island of Nauru (The Papua New Guineans dropped it and the Fijians are having their doubts).
  • AV makes coalition governments much more likely. The Lib Dems will be the kingmakers – and they are more likely to go with the Tories as with Labour. “AV opens the door to a new political world in which coalitions become the norm, and single-party majority government a distant memory. Defeat for AV could quickly end the Coalition Government. But success would bind it together – for a long time to come. Vernon Bogdanor, Cameron’s tutor at Oxford.
  • AV does not take account of the second preferences of all voters, only those of the least successful candidates. This was a point made about AV by Winston Churchill in 1931 – “The decision is to be determined by the most worthless votes given for the most worthless candidates”. In other words, an MP’s success could be determined by the preferences of UKIP or BNP voters. This situation could therefore well lead to the major parties adjusting their policies, for example on immigration, in order to appeal to the prejudices of these voters in the hope of picking up their transferred preferences.
  • There are many more spoilt ballot papers under AV.
  • AV will not make politics more open and honourable. After a general election we would see unseemly horse trading between parties, with manifesto promises and campaign commitments being jettisoned. Examples abound at the moment.
  • AV may not produce a more proportional result than FPTP. For example under AV in Alberta, Canada, one party obtained 90% of the seats on 54% of the vote.
  • AV has been described as an “anti-incumbent” system, which accelerates trends.
  • If you live in a constituency where Labour is in third place, your vote for Labour is totally disregarded and has no effect concerning Labour. It becomes a full-value vote for the Lib Dems if you transfer to them.
  • It is possible for a more weakly preferred candidate to end up winning. AV would quite often produce Lib Dem victories in constituencies that are either primarily Labour or primarily Tory.
  • “AV led to a significant drop in the number of people voting in Australia – that’s why they had to make voting compulsory. AV doesn’t help democracy, it stands in its way”. Margaret Beckett.
  • The recent YouGov poll revealed that Lib Dem supporters say they prefer a Tory Government to a Labour Government by 51% to 16%. Under AV they will mostly transfer to Tories not to Labour.
  • Coalition agreements, bobbled together by party elites, greatly reduce the rate and influence of the wider political party and its membership. Continental experience of coalitions show that the power of the civil services bureaucrats is considerably enhanced.
  • The referendum will be fundamentally flawed. There will be huge differentials in the turnout. For example in Scotland and Wales there will be a high turnout because of the local elections whereas in London, with no local elections, the turnout will be very low.
  • “[without a majority government] the decisions that really matter to people are taken behind closed doors. Instead of people choosing the government, the politicians do.” David Cameron speaking before the 2010 election.
  • “The fixed-term parliaments bill could make dissolution of parliament more difficult, enabling parties to change coalition partners without having to appeal to the voters. Westminster is in danger of becoming a house without windows, dominated by political manoeuvring which excites the political class but alienates the voter”. Prof Vernon Bogdanor.
  • In a recent poll in Australia only 37% backed AV with most people supporting a return to First-past-the-post.

Peter Willsman is Secretary of the Campaign for Labour Party Democracy

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