So it's payoff time for Ramsay McClegg. The Tories have finally thrown a bone to their human shield allies in the form of a referendum on the Alternative Vote (AV), to take place on May 5th.
In return for services rendered, the Lib Dems get a long-awaited shot at an electoral system that's supposed to more truly reflect their performance in the general election, with the number of MPs elected tallying more closely with the percentage of the overall vote. It is plainly unfair that a relatively large turnout of the LibDem's electorate always results in a pitiful clutch of seats in Parliament.
However, because AV is not even a watered down form of Proportional Representation (PR), which most progressives see as fairer than the current First Past The Post (FPTP) system, it comes with a whole host of problems even worse than FPTP.
AV is the coalition vote.
AV encourages consolidation of coalitions into two blocs and in the UK is more likely to lead to permanent centre-right coalitions unless the Labour Party and the Greens do a deal (see this Australia post).
Can you imagine what it'll be like for our government to be in permanent coalition mode with the Lib Dems swinging power for ever and ever? Or an emulation of Italy's system of unelected conservative coalitions which returns Berlusconi to power again and again? Not so much the image of a boot in the face as a custard pie in the mush in perpetuity.
The May 5th referendum is a sham. Why only give us the choice between FPTP and AV? Why so scared of proper PR?
My understanding of the situation, following fairly idiot-proof discussions with a very patient Paul Anderson, is that some versions of PR still allow a consituency to elect its MP according to whoever gets the majority of the votes, as in FPTP. But the Additional Member System (AMS) kicks in by having a top-up list at the regional level which makes the final tally of MPs reflect their overall support in the electorate.
AV does not have regional top-up seats.
In Anderson's new website, AV Is Not PR, he explains why AV is not proportional:
Without regional top-up seats, the alternative vote is not a system of proportional representation. AV, used in Australia, retains single-member constituencies from first past the post but changes the marking of ballots to ‘1, 2, 3’ and so on in order of preference. If no candidate gets 50 per cent of first preferences, the second preferences of the candidate with the fewest votes are added to the other candidates’ totals. This process continues until one candidate has more than 50 per cent of the vote.
So the weakest candidates get their second preferences to count more heavily than everyone else's. Under AV, some voters are evidently more equal than others.
AV is a sham. Even Nick Clegg once wrote it off as 'a miserable little compromise'.
Anderson quotes a letter in the Independent from Antony Brown, Thomas Lundberg, John Cox and Brian Wilson:
AV is not proportional and can exaggerate landslide elections. In 1997, for example, it is probable that Blair would have had a majority of over 200 with AV. It exaggerates the tendency of our current system to direct voters into a two-sided competition. Smaller parties, such as the Greens, are no more likely to be elected than today.
AV gives minority parties greater electoral leverage but without democratic accountability. A minority party can barter with larger parties, urging its supporters to give the larger party their second preferences in return for policy concessions. Smaller parties should be heard, but transparently and after receiving a mandate.
Expect even more sleazy back-room deals and horse-trading than usual.
AV is not a step toward the fairer system of PR, but a dead end we'll be stuck in for a long time.
Vote No to AV on May 5th.
Others on the left arguing against AV include Socialist Unity.