Wednesday, November 03, 2010

AV reform update

The Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill has finally passed through the Commons which means that an AV referendum will be held on the same day as the Scottish and Welsh Assembly elections (and others), fixed term Parliaments, redrawing of all the Parliamentary boundaries, and a significant reduction in the number of MPs.

Parliament had rejected amendments to allow voters a choice of what kind of voting system they would prefer, changing the date of the referendum so it did not skew the elections taking place on the same day and reducing the number of Ministers in Parliament to account for the fact that the number of backbenchers would have been drastically reduced.

The Lib Dems voted as an extremely disciplined block throughout this process against all motions to improve the bill and have been rewarded by a similarly disciplined block of Tories voting for a bill they'd rather have never existed.

In the end the bill passed with 321 votes for to 264 against. The bulk of those who voted against the unamended bill were Labour MPs but they were joined in the no lobby by Green Party MP Caroline Lucas.

She was rightly concerned about reducing the number of constituencies and that this was to be done without a proportionate reduction in Ministers, thus strengthening the executive. She was also worried that the date of the referendum would unduly distort local and national assembly elections and, of course, that the referendum itself fell far short of a real choice on electoral reform.

Caroline voted for the second reading of the bill (ie before the amendments were put) because she supports the principle of a referendum and wanted to have the opportunity to try and amend the bill – to increase the options on the ballot paper to include proportional representation and other voting systems, as well as to try and decouple the voting reform elements from the proposals to reduce the number of constituencies. Understandably she was very disappointed to see Lib Dems voting against their own policies, but then we've come to expect now I guess. The result was that the bill which MPs had to vote on yesterday in its third reading was unamended on the key issues and thus impossible for Caroline to support, much as she would have loved to back the principle of voting reform.

Of course, the Green Party of England and Wales doesn't go as far as our Northern Ireland counterpart who recently took the decision to campaign for a no vote in the referendum. We'll be having a modest campaign in favour of AV, with the safeguard that no significant party funds are to be spent on the campaign.

Certainly the referendum for AV itself is far from won and YouGov polling has shown that support for the move has fallen away. Just a few months ago polling was showing general support for the idea but now just 32% would vote in favour and 43% against, probably in order to give the government a kick.

If AV does pass the next general election will look very different to the last one. It's likely, for example, that the coalition parties will recommend a second preference for each other and all parties will have to take a firm decision on what recommendations they do or do not make to the electorate.

We have the exciting prospect of candidates praising each other in the hope of gaining second preferences and, of course, denouncing each other for their official choice of second best. I'm particularly interested to see the reactions of candidates who are 'endorsed' as second preference by the BNP or UKIP as well as curious as to what approach Green members want to take.

It may never happen of course, but whatever way the referendum goes the Lib Dems will have strengthened the power of the Parliamentary executive and demonstrated that there is no principle they wont ditch when expediency beckons.


RickB said...

Controversially I would suggest list items 4 and 5 are in the wrong order, pissing on an alight person is nicer than leaving them to burn.

Anonymous said...

So how is that going to make me have a second choice?

I will not be voting for a party I do not want to see in power, as a second third or fourth choice. I will vote once - for the party I do want.

Jim Jepps said...

Rick: that's the traditional view - I rather like the new take on the poster.

Anon - no-one is forcing you to have a second choice, or a first one come to that. Obviously most people aren't dogmatic tribalists and will choose to exercise second, third, fourth preferences where appropriate.

Cathryn said...

Very disappointed that Caroline voted against this, though pleased it got through. I'd hoped there was a bit more to her opposition to it than what you've outlined here.

AV is the only reform in town, and its better than FPTP.

If my electorate had been under AV last time, I would probably have got my second choice, an MP I have quite a lot of time for. I would have been happy with that result. If my vote lands on someone I would tolerate at a push, and helps them win over someone I like even less, then that's a result, and a better one than I'd see now, where my Green vote is just thrown away.

It's hard to get worked up about electoral reform, but even this little one would surely make a difference in the strength of the mandate a government has. It's sad to see the Green's so uninterested.

dave said...

AV is better that FPTP. You dont have to vote for the people you want to piss on by the way - just those who you want or don't mind. It gets rid of a lot of safe seats and will make the MPs do more to support their population - it is'nt STV but it is far better than FPTP which is past its sell by date. Anyone who wants a better democracy needs to vote yes next year. Anyone who wants more of the same needs locking up (but would be better off voting for FPTP of they want to keep the millionares in power )

dave said...

ps don't shoot yourself in the foot by voting no even if you think Nick is a tossser. Even tossers have good ideas now and again and this is one of those ideas. It is better for us and not so good for them (MPs) so lets get behind the people and stop doing the multimillionares jobs for them. Join and poke the rich self centered arses in the eye

Will said...

Dave you are a blatant lib dem. Nick is a tosser and he's traded away tuition fees, slow deficit reduction and any ounce of credibility for this non-reform. It will only benefit the Lib Dems and I, for one, will vote no

Paul Jeater said...

In all honesty neither AV or FPTP are desirable systems. Based on article in Independent today Cameron & Clegg are already working on a deal to ensure that they stitch up 1/2 votes, in an attempt to prevent any progressive government/coalition in the future.
AV only seems to benefit those parties who make it through to the final rounds in a constituency, and I'm yet to be convinced that AV would necessarily benefit the Green Party. Assuming Labour and perhaps a few genuine liberal voters gave the Greens their second preference votes would that be enough to reach the later rounds in a constituency ?
Brighton Pavilion was won under FPTP, has any analysis been done to see how many constituencies would become winnable under AV ?
Of course by 2015 Clegg and co make have joined the Consrvatives, and be given safe Tory seats ,the Lib Dems will have imploded and the Greens may have become the alternative third force in politics in Britain. ( I can hope !)

weggis said...

"The creatures outside [Greens] looked from pig [Lab] to man [Condem], and from man [Condem] to pig [Lab], and from pig [Lab] to man [ConDem] again; but already it was impossible to say which was which." - Animal Farm, George Orwell

Jim Jepps said...

Cathryn: you'll have to speak to her to get her full reasons!

Dave: you say "It gets rid of a lot of safe seats" and I'd like to query that specific point. How many safe seats would it have got rid of at the last election? My understanding is that some marginals would have gone different ways but all the safe seats would have had the same results - do you have research that says otherwise?

Derek Wall said...

The anti-AV campaign seems very weak and may even persuade the likes of Jim and myself to reconsider!