Wednesday, 6 April 2011

What does AV stand for?

Despite what you may believe about AV, after reading the works of James Herriot, it does not stand for 'artificial vagina'. Oh no, certainly not! It actually stands for alternative vote, which is a system by which the voter can rank the candidates in accordance with the amount of evil they represent. Essentially it is a way of electing officials through preferential voting, with candidates with the fewest votes being eliminated. The issue is divisive for the political class, with the Conservatives in opposition and the Liberals siding with Labour in favour of the reform. We've got the chance to vote for or against the reform on May 5th, this is one of the few promises kept by the Liberals. Some are voting "Yes" out of a passionate hatred of all things Tory, while others are voting "No" out of disdain for those Lib Dem sell-outs. The famous have already jumped on board with the "Yes" camp, including Stephen Fry, Eddie Izzard, Joanna Lumley and Colin Firth. So if you trust Jeeves, Patsy Stone, Eddie Izzard and Mr Darcy on politics vote "Yes!"

The opposition campaign emphasise the cost of implementing the new system, which could be as much as £250 million. According to that logic we ought to scrap all benefits because fraud costs £500 million a year. Reform can be costly, but that is not a good enough reason alone to oppose reform. Though cost can be an important variable, the details of the proposal and the context in which reform is proposed matter more. For the Left there could be advantages from a system of proportional representation, as it could enable each party to reflect a particular base and leave room for leftist parties to coalesce against the Conservative Party. But that still assumes that the Left will benefit from AV. Labour may still be salvageable from Blairism and a resurgence of the Labour Left under the current electoral system would be difficult to marginalise at the ballot box. Under the first-past-the-post system the results of elections can be distorted, which is why the Thatcherites won "landslide" victories in 1983 and 1987. In that case 42% of the electorate was translated into 61% of the available seats.

When we're met with a Lib-Lab alliance over reform we ought to recall the words of Earl Grey on the 1832 Reform act "The Principle of my reform is to prevent the necessity of revolution... I am reforming to preserve, not to overthrow." After all Labour and the Lib Dems hardly represent working-people anymore, even though there are social democrats amongst the neoconservatives and market liberals in each of these parties. Social justice is only sought in order to buy-off socialism. The Con-Dem Coalition have tried to dress up the same old programme with the glossy image and rhetoric of "progress", the aim being to buy-off the public with PR instead of policy. At the same time, it could be seen as a simple manoeuvre of self-interest on the part of the Lib Dems. AV is the only hope for the Liberals now, under the first-past-the-post the Lib Dems would be easily marginalised in 2015. But the majority of Lib Dem and Labour voters would be unlikely to rank the Conservatives second-place. This is where leftist parties, like the Greens, might benefit greatly under the AV system.

And then there is the ugly side of the working-class, the BNP could be strengthened by electoral reform, though this is often exaggerated. Especially as the BNP appeals to working-people disillusioned with the Establishment. It should be noted that the BNP have been in tatters as a result of the emergence of the EDL, to which many BNP members have defected and the EDL as a political party might be a bigger worry than the BNP. Whilst it remains unclear whether or not fascism would be enabled by electoral reform, it seems fairly certain that the UKIP would benefit from such reform and gain greater seats in Parliament. From this a rightist bloc could emerge to corner any left-wing resurgence in Parliament along populist lines, with a cynical emphasis on the EU and immigration. Though the links between UKIP and the Conservatives would be in clear sight, with the two parties essentially only disagreeing on the fine details of policy rather than issues at large.

At the same time it might be difficult to resurrect the Labour Party as the party of the working-class and the labour movement. Proportional representation, to which AV is a step towards, would lead to more seats for the likes of UKIP and could institutionalise coalition governments. So even a progressive coalition could be pushed around by a rightist bloc of opposition and that has the potential to be as stagnant as the current system, if not more so arguably. It would be easier for a party platform to be diluted as part of multi-party alliances and coalition agreements, which would exclude the public as demonstrated in the 2010 General Election. With the kind of outcomes from the last election it is inevitable that people will vote to hurt either the Liberals or the Conservatives, but it is quite likely that the Lib Dems will be railed against and the proposal opposed because it is advocated by Liberals. Genuinely, it will be interesting to see if the Lib Dem voters can be rallied around electoral reform after the sell out of 2010.

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