In Solidarity 3-189 Martin Thomas argued that on balance socialists should not support Alternative Vote (AV) in the May referendum. I believe he is wrong. Socialists as consistent democrats should critically support a vote for AV.
The yes campaign supporting AV is likely to be a fairly lacklustre affair which will probably be defeated. Most supporters of electoral reform support some kind of proportional system and may not mobilise to support AV. The vast majority of Tories will oppose AV and a large number of Labour supporters are likely to oppose it, even if officially the Labour Party supports AV.
The key question for socialists should be democracy. AV would be a small technocratic improvement to Britain’s limited bourgeois democracy. Marxists are not indifferent to such questions. AV allows voters to express a preference for more than one party. AV in union elections allows far left candidates to stand as propaganda candidates without being open to the fear they would let the right in. In unions without AV, such as Unite, elections are skewed towards “left” bureaucrats because socialists do not want to split the left vote.
AV would allow a socialist propaganda candidate to appeal to working class voters without letting the Tories or Lib Dems in. It might also allow local agreements between left-wing CLPs and socialists to transfer to each other. We should continue to argue for Proportional Representation but we should accept that AV is more democratic then FPTP and support it.
Martin argues that the consequences of AV could help the Lib Dems because they can offer electoral pacts to swap preferences in return for concessions. This may be true now but it would not always be so. We would surely argue for Labour to rebut such offers from the Lib Dems. Neither is it clear that such pacts would have much effect, as Martin acknowledges voters may take little notice of them.
We should not fixate on whether we think this or that electoral system would swing results in Labour’s favour in the here and now. We fight for independent working class representation and a workers’ government.
Arguing for AV gives us a chance to present our democratic programme to those anxious for change. Our programme includes the abolition of monarchy, all titles and the House of Lords; supports secularism, federalism, the Single Transferable Vote (STV) in elections, and annual parliaments. All MPs should also be recallable and on an average worker’s wage.