Submitted by Matthew on 13 May, 2010 - 12:15

The Tory-Liberal government say they will hold a referendum on the Alternative Vote system. It retains constituencies and “first past the post”, but people cast second, third, fourth, etc, preferences as well as first-preference votes, and the winner gets “past the post” only when transferred preferences take him or her past 50% of the turnout.

Like the current system AV leaves smaller parties (other than those with a very localised base) without representation. But it makes parties’ “transfers” — their recommendations as to how the voters who rank them no.1 should use their second, third, etc. preferences — very important.

The Lib Dems, who have long wanted proportional representation, have accepted AV as a good-enough electoral reform for a coalition deal.

It makes no sense for socialists to be last-ditch defenders (on spurious grounds of “ensuring stable government” or the like) of a “first past the post” system producing obviously distorted results.

But it is not true that electoral reform would be a decisive step forward for the left.

We also have to look at who is pushing PR, and the reasons why they advocate what they do.

The key to political progress would still lie with political mobilisation in the roots of the labour movement, not in electoral technique.

The political system in Britain needs much more than tinkering with the vote-counting system before it will be anything like real democracy.


Submitted by Janine on Thu, 20/05/2010 - 14:41

One small point. I think the second paragraph over-estimates the extent to which voters will use their second preference according to the recommendation of their first preference candidate/party.

'Parties' won't transfer their votes - individual voters will. Even less than in the past do parties command such loyalty among their voters that they will be able to simply tell them who to transfer their vote to.

Submitted by martin on Sun, 21/11/2010 - 12:19

In Australia, the only country where the AV system is used, voters do generally use their second preferences according to the recommendations of their first-preference party.

That happens despite party loyalty having decayed in Australia as it has in Britain. (It's now not unusual for people to vote one way in state elections and another way in federal elections).

You could say that the preferences go that way because they accord with what voters would want to do anyway (Labour voters prefer to go to Green rather than National or Liberal; National voters prefer to go Liberal rather than Labour or Green, etc.)

But it's not just that. Click here for the example of the Queensland state election in 1995, won by the Nationals on the basis of the Greens atypically switching preferences away from Labor.

Or, for a more general picture, discussing for example the way that right-wing Labor splinter (DLP) preferences, followed by "traditional Labor" voters, kept the conservatives winning elections for many years, click here and here.

It might be that the Lib-Dems would do something like the now-almost-defunct Australian Democrats did, and recommend "split tickets" or make no recommendation. However that policy did lead to the Australian Democrats becoming defunct...

Again, you might argue that Australian voters are "used to" how-to-vote cards, and that it would not catch on in Britain. The reason for doubting that is that success in Australian elections depends quite heavily on negotiating preference deals, and does so because of the logic of the AV system, not for "cultural" reasons.

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