In the interests of broadening the discussion I asked Labour blogger Darrell Goodliffe and Green Rupert Read to set out the case for each side of the AV referendum. I asked them each to lay out their case either for a yes or no vote and then gave them a right of reply.
So: What’s the case for voting NO? These are the two lines I hear:
1) ‘AV is good for extremists’.
Simply a lie. See me recently on ITV, from 8 minutes in, here. AV is the worst of all possible systems for extremists such as the BNP. Which is presumably why the BNP are vigorously opposing it... AV, a system in which voters can ‘gang up’ on unpopular Parties, will help ensure that the BNP never gets elected to Westminster - and moreover, if introduced in local government elections, would lead to the defeat of virtually all their Councillors. AV would drastically reduce the bane of ‘tactical voting’ that’s a necessary evil for voters when a multi-party political system is squeezed into a two-party electoral system. In the process, it would shut the door on the electoral prospects of the BNP... But if you want Nick Griffin to wake up with a big smile on May 6th, then vote NO...
2) ‘To hurt the LibDems, vote NO’.
The NOtoAV campaign, understandably (given that they have no constructive arguments to offer) are trying to turn the AV referendum into a referendum on Nick Clegg. This is a cynical way to treat a hugely important constitutional question; but there’s another reason, less obvious, why it’s wrong: Nick Clegg's Party will not benefit from AV. Under AV, you can give your first preference to whoever you want to win. The Lib Dems might gain votes in areas where they are weak, under AV, as they will no longer be perceived as a "wasted vote" in those areas. But they will lose first preference votes in areas where they are strong, as people will no longer be compelled to vote for them tactically in order to cast a vote that is not "wasted". Losing votes where you are strong loses you seats; gaining votes where you are weak does not. (See Liberal Conspiracy, Rupert's Read). ...It simply isn’t true that AV will be good for Clegg’s Party!
…Look at those who are in favour of AV: Virtually all the ‘progressive’ elements in Labour, including of course the Milibands and Compass plus Hilary Benn, Jon Cruddas, John Denham, Sadiq Khan, Michael Meacher, John McDonnell, Joan Ruddock…; the Greens; plus most of ‘civil society’ including notably organisations such as Operation Black Vote. Look at those who are arraigned against AV: the entire right-wing press, the Tories, BNP, Taxpayers Alliance, a bunch of ultra-right-wing businessmen and climate-deniers who are funding NO… and the most tribal, uninspiring elements of Labour: Prescott, Beckett, Blunkett… Darrell, do you feel happy in the company you keep: Griffin, Cameron, Hague (Open Democracy), Murdoch, Dacre, Guido Fawkes (Rupert's Read) and Matthew Elliott?...
Rupert's response to Darrell:
Let me take Darrell's arguments in turn:
"A Yes Vote won’t lead to further reform": Irrelevant. The question is whether AV is better than FPTP. As I've shown, it is. …But furthermore: is further reform MORE likely if AV is voted down? If anyone agitated for PR during the next generation, after AV had been defeated, the answer would come back clearly: ‘Britain has rejected even the modest move to AV; so it is POINTLESS offering voters PR’…
"It’s inconsistent to claim AV will benefit Greens and not BNP": Plain wrong, as I’ve shown. The BNP oppose AV because they are HATED – hated extremist Parties hate AV for good reason… Meanwhile, it’s AV that has enabled Greens in Australia to get their first MP elected.
“AV won't end tactical voting”: Duplicitous wordplay. AV enables voters to vote for who they want, from 1st to last. It will end tactical voting as we know it, in which people vote only for the lesser of several evils.
“AV doesn’t ensure MPs elected by 50% of electorate”: Technically true, but deeply misleading. Under AV, virtually all MPs WILL be elected by a majority of voters; under FPTP, most MPs are elected by a minority.
Darrell's reply to Rupert:
I certainly would’t deny Rupert’s point that British politics is broken. Nonetheless, we have to ask a little more than if something is broken. It would be a poor doctor that just proclaimed a patient to be sick and not even offer a cure or, potentially even worse, offer the wrong kind of cure. My submission is that AV is not the right medicine for British politics.
I deal with Rupert’s first line-of-attack in my main text so won’t expand on that. Regarding AV and the Lib Dems; AV will objectively help the Lib Dem right, as most leftish Liberal Democrats have de-camped to either Labour or the Greens. So, Orange Bookers will use AV to cement their alliance with, and electoral dependence on the Conservative Party - AV is shown once again to weaken the left as a whole and strengthening the right, which will be the net effect of its introduction in other areas too.
Nonetheless, we have to judge AV on its merits as a system; the only effect that should be decisive is on our democracy and here its my submission that this ’miserable little compromise’ is deeply damaging and should be opposed.