They wouldn’t let us vote on the Lisbon Treaty. They won’t let us vote on EU membership. Now they want to change the electoral system to keep themselves in power…
On 5 May the British people will be asked to vote in a national referendum. About time too, you might say. Let’s really see what people think about all those ConDem policies never mentioned by campaigning politicians before the general election – on student fees (debt), free schools and academies, the wrecking of the NHS. Or even more important, that referendum we have never been allowed to have – on whether we should leave the EU and its utterly polluting effect on our lives (because they know how we would vote).
But no, we won’t be given the chance to vote on any of these compelling issues. The May referendum will be about whether we want to change the voting system for parliament from First Past the Post (FPTP) to the Alternative Vote (AV), and at the same time reduce the number of MPs and constituencies.
Under AV, voters rank candidates in order of preference. If the favoured candidate fails to secure half the votes on the first count, the second choices of those voters who voted for the least favoured candidate are redistributed. This process continues until a candidate wins 50 per cent or more of the votes.
So why on earth are we troubling ourselves with this at a time of national emergency? Answer: the Liberal Democrats want it. In return for propping up this brutal money-loving, people-hating government (remember that Cameron’s Tories didn’t win the election), they have been thrown a sop in the form of this referendum. The LibDems have always supported proportional representation as the only way they are likely to gain any kind of political power (as not enough people vote for them), and although AV is not that they see it as a step on the road.
So Clegg and his little gang of crooks in government want us to vote for a system which they hope might keep them in power for longer. The Labour leadership supports AV too, Eds Miliband and Balls campaigning for it on the grounds of “fairness”, like condemned men calling for a fairer length of rope! Labour MPs are less convinced, with over half having signed an ad calling for a No vote.
A much bigger question for British democracy is that there is hardly anybody you would want to vote for in parliamentary elections. AV is a pathetic attempt to give a democratic gloss to the whole sorry spectacle, when the party that “won” in the past three elections got fewer people to vote for it than those who did not vote at all.
Mass abstention in British general elections is an embarrassment to politicians who want to wield power “in our name”. In the last election over a third of the electorate effectively abstained, whereas with AV politicians can claim the winning candidates won over 50 per cent of the vote even if two-thirds of voters do not vote at all! At least FPTP is clear, in that whoever gets the most votes wins, and it is obvious how many votes each candidate secures. And talking of fairness, FPTP only allows one vote per voter, whereas AV effectively allows some voters more than one (if your preferred candidate comes last).
Australia is the only country in the world with an AV system. In 1967, in the state of Victoria, the Liberals won fewer first preference votes than the Labor Party but got three times as many seats. In 1990, Labor won 39 per cent of the votes, but 53 per cent of the seats; the Democrats got 11 per cent of the votes, but no seats.
So claims of AV’s “fairness” and “proportionality” fail. As the Jenkins Commission concluded in 1998, “AV … in some circumstances … is even less proportional than FPTP.”
The LibDems and their supporters who back AV think that if they can win the 5 May referendum, the next election, run on AV, would result in a hung parliament. This would bring another coalition and another deal, leading to a referendum on proportional representation. That system encourages special interest parties, divisive ethnic minority parties and regional parties – hardly what we need to progress politically in Britain.
Coalition creates a necessity of breaking promises, and an excuse for it, so that the electors can never know where they are or what they are voting for. It is not so much government as democracy that is damaged by coalition. Under AV, and PR, party leaders, not the voters, choose governments.
Add to this voting con the proposal in the referendum to reduce the number of MPs by changing constituency boundaries. The fewer the better, you may well think. But the Cabinet will not be reduced, so there will be fewer backbench MPs to challenge ministers – a significant increase in their hold over parliament. And consider the loosening of the local link between constituents and their MPs as constituencies grow larger, and you will see the true intentions behind the proposals.
AV is an effort to breathe life into the corpse. If it were carried out, it would damage Britain and limit democracy by making it more difficult for us to kick out a despised government.
We want more referendums, which take power away from discredited politicians; so we must seize this chance to reject their schemes, even on this little matter. But even more, we need a referendum on the life-and-death matter of the membership of the EU.
No to AV!