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”

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