Alternative Vote is “even less proportional” than status quo

Yesterday, the Prime Minister announced that there would be a commitment in the next Labour manifesto to hold a referendum on changing the electoral system for Westminster to one that uses the "Alternative Vote" method. But it is not a proportional system and can actually be less proportional than our current First Past the Post system.

Yesterday, the Prime Minister announced that there would be a commitment in the next Labour manifesto to hold a referendum on changing the electoral system for Westminster to one that uses the “Alternative Vote” method.

There has been much comment about this in the media today but there seem to be some misconceptions about what AV actually is. For example, Simon Heffer writing in today’s Telegraph seems to think that it is a proportional system. It is not and can actually be less proportional than our current First Past the Post system.

Indeed section 82 in Chapter 5 of ‘The Report of the Independent Commission on the Voting System‘ which reported in 1998 (commissioned by Tony Blair after his 1997 election victory although never acted upon) makes clear what is likely to have happened in 1997 under AV:

“AV on its own suffers from a stark objection. It offers little prospect of a move towards greater proportionality, and in some circumstances, and those the ones which certainly prevailed at the last election and may well do so for at least the next one, it is even less proportional that FPTP.

“Simulations of how the 1997 result might have come out under AV suggest that it would have significantly increased the size of the already swollen Labour majority. A ‘best guess’ projection of the shape of the current [1997-2001] Parliament under AV suggests on one highly reputable estimate the following outcome with the actual FPTP figures given in brackets after the projected figures: Labour 452 (419), Conservative 96 (165), Liberal Democrats 82 (46), others 29 (29). The overall Labour majority could thus have risen from 169 to 245. On another equally reputable estimate the figures are given as Labour 436, Conservatives 110, Liberal Democrats 84 and others 29, an overall majority this time of 213.”

Lewis Baston of the Electoral Reform Society wrote on Comment is Free yesterday that this is a “half measure” and that UKIP are likely to be the only allies that Gordon Brown can count on in any campaign for AV. He suggests “Vote yes, because Gordon Brown and Nigel Farage want you to” is not a compelling slogan.

Neal Lawson, chair of Compass also made his feelings plain at last night’s “Democratic Renewal Rally” where, as reported by John Harris:

“..he said he felt ‘patronised, angry and frustrated’. A convincing referendum on election day, he said, would have put David Cameron on the defensive, and begun to rebuild the centre-left electoral coalition that was glued together in 1997. With the offer of a better system than AV, there would have been the prospect of a new kind of politics: the entry of into Westminster of new outsiders, an end to the tyranny of swing voters in the marginals, and more.

“But Brown had ‘flunked the test of boldness’ thanks to his usual insistence on grim split-the-difference politics”

As you’re here, we have something to ask you. What we do here to deliver real news is more important than ever. But there’s a problem: we need readers like you to chip in to help us survive. We deliver progressive, independent media, that challenges the right’s hateful rhetoric. Together we can find the stories that get lost.

We’re not bankrolled by billionaire donors, but rely on readers chipping in whatever they can afford to protect our independence. What we do isn’t free, and we run on a shoestring. Can you help by chipping in as little as £1 a week to help us survive? Whatever you can donate, we’re so grateful - and we will ensure your money goes as far as possible to deliver hard-hitting news.

8 Responses to “Alternative Vote is “even less proportional” than status quo”

  1. Alex Ross

    Out of interest, has anyone suggested an alternative system that still keeps 100% of MPs with a constituency link? I’d be interested in looking at that – AV+ and PR are no goes for me as I think all MPs should have a constituency link.

  2. Ronan*

    Yes – the PR-STV system retains a constituency link for all representatives. They are elected by a Single Transferrable Vote (STV).
    It is the system used in the Republic of Ireland.

  3. Ed Leighton

    AV is an answer to the question of how to better assign an MP to his constituency. In this system, even a conservative (for example) with the most votes could lose if a clear majority voted for anyone but him.

    However, AV+ also gives those who vote for minor parties a stake, as the greens and even (perhaps) the SDP would get the odd seat in the top up section. The job of those minor parties elected in the top up would be to represent the interests of their voters nationally on whatever their core issues are. While being representative in this respect, and increasing the scrutiny of the House of Commons over legislation, it retains the link between the constituecy and its MP.

    Surely this is a panacea?

  4. Roger

    Ed – SDP?

    Excellent article – question I have is whether anyone has done any serious analysis of how AV might have impacted on the 2005 election?

    I started doing one myself but found it methodologically too complex to calculate.

    Other question would be whether GB’s reference to AV allows an option to choose between AV and AV+?

    As one can hardly now conceive of a majority Labour govt resulting from the next election, the only scenario I can imagine a referendum happening at all is if a minority Labour government is forced to seek Lib-Dem support – n which case they would certainly demand at least an AV+ option.

    What gets tricky is turning it into a genuine multiple choice – one that allowed a choice between no change, AV, AV+ and STV would almost certainly be indecisive in that no clear majority would vote for any one of these options.

    I’d also suggest that if we do by some largely undeserved miracle get a hung parliament rather than a Tory landslide then having a referendum on any form of PR under a weak minority government is hardly conducive to a strong vote a system that will be presented by the media as delivering more weak minority govts.

    Lets face it this could have all been settled in 1998 but Tony Blair blew it – now we’ve no hope of seeing any change for at least another decade.

Comments are closed.