Wednesday, 20 April 2011

AV or not AV?

I haven't posted on the referendum for two reasons: first because my focus has been on posting about life as a golf club captain and second because I hadn't fully made up my mind.

AV has a whiff of fairness about it, but it also brings with it complexity, a change to something that doesn't really need fixing and an increase in the power of parties over individuals.

The more I've thought about it - and have looked at the respective campaigns - neither of which have been impressive - the more I think the flaws of AV outweigh the benefits and will vote no.

There are problems with most forms of democratic voting systems (where the area is bigger than an area where people know each other well); problems of not identifying with the MP, not having equal representation (Labour need many fewer votes per MP than Tories or Lib Dems), under-representation of extremists (many would see that as a good point), MPs not being selected by more than 50% of the votes, MPs being selected by small groups of people because they are good party people (eg MEPs); and so on. Volumes of words have been written on the subject. AV solves none of them - not even being selected by more than 50% of voters, because you don't have to cast more than one vote.

Which is why, until the yes campaign kicked off, most of its current suppporters did not support it.

There's another reason some of the current supporters changed their minds having previously been negative: money. The cost of running an AV election will be substantial (£250m+). A main financial promotor of the AV campaign is an organisation (the electoral reform society) that will profit from the change.

Many supporters say that although AV is not perfect, it is at least a change from the current system. These tend to be LibDems - although there has been research into the effect AV would have had on past elections, it's hard to work it out accurately. The effect seems to be that when there's a significant swing in mood (eg to Thatcher or Blair) AV would emphasise that swing and when there isn't it would emphasise the middle. But the party that would do best out of it in general seems to be the LibDems. The result is therefore likely to be less effective opposition or coalitions based on party negotiations.

I don't really accept the "no" campaign's argument that the system is too complicated to explain - and yet: remember the significant number of spoiled ballots in Scotland in the 2007 election? Complexity really did have a negative impact.

Our current system is one of the better alternatives. There has to be a clear reason to change. AV doesn't solve most electoral problems, it will cost a lot and is likely to lead to more power for political parties rather than less. (I will always remember the photo of Nick Clegg's coalition negotiating notes showing he was mostly concerned with the Lib Dems status rather than policy).

I have another problem with the vote: I think important changes should be carefully considered. I don't like the idea of referendums deciding something unless there are some safeguards: a certain % of people should vote; the majority should be more than 50% to take account of the fact that some people won't vote; ideally there should be two referendums for major changes, say 5 years apart, so the result isn't swayed by short term issues. The thing about change is you can't put it back. But you can always change in the future.

So in the absence of clear reasons to change - and because there are some good reasons not to - I'm voting no.

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