Labour should support a “Yes” vote on AV

With a date now set for a referendum on switching the electoral system to the Alternative Vote, a debate will no doubt rage inside both the Labour and Conservative parties as to how they should campaign.

With a date now set for a referendum on switching the electoral system to the Alternative Vote, a debate will no doubt rage inside both the Labour and Conservative parties as to how they should campaign. Labour MPs and activists, regardless of their views on proportional representation, should support a “Yes” vote for three simple reasons.

First, the Alternative Vote is an intrinsically fairer system that first-past-the-post. Under Britain’s current electoral system only 33 per cent of MPs were elected with a clear majority (50%+1) of support in their constituencies – the lowest ever proportion. AV ensures that every MP would have this legitimacy by reallocating second preferences. But the system only changes the way votes are cast and counted meaning that any concerns about how some electoral systems remove the constituency link are not relevant.

Second, the Alternative Vote is popular while first-past-the-post is unpopular. A recent poll by ComRes for the Independent showed that 78 per cent of voters believe the current electoral system should be replaced while 56 per cent would back a switch to the AV system.

Third, the Alternative Vote is likely to help Labour at the expense of the Conservatives. Post-election research by US pollster Stanley Greenberg showed that 37 per cent of Lib Dem voters wanted a Labour-Lib Dem coalition compared to 29 per cent who supported a Tory-Lib Dem coalition, a further 21 per cent wanted a Unity government. Since the election, the Lib Dem vote has collapsed to 16 per cent – twice as many of these switchers have turned to Labour compared to the Tories. A projection by the Electoral Reform Society of the 2010 election outcome under the Alternative Vote showed the Tories on 281 (-26), Labour on 262 (+4), and Lib Dems (+22).

One final reason is that the Labour party already uses AV for the selection of its own leader. If it’s good enough for the party, it should be good enough for the country.

UPDATE 12.06:

Ed Miliband has put out the following statement:

“I strongly support the case for introducing the Alternative Vote, to ensure greater fairness for voters and greater legitimacy for our MPs in Westminster. Whenever the referendum takes place, I will campaign with other supporters across the political spectrum for this important change.”

Earlier today, David Miliband told Today listeners:

“I think that it’s important that we move to a system where every Member of Parliament has at least 50 per cent of the vote of their constituents.”

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33 Responses to “Labour should support a “Yes” vote on AV”

  1. Clay Harris

    RT @leftfootfwd: Labour should support a "Yes" vote on AV: http://bit.ly/bofIw1

  2. Rob Watson

    @leftfootfwd: Labour should support a "Yes" vote on AV: http://bit.ly/bofIw1 – Should Labour go further and have PR for local councils?

  3. Claire Spencer

    It's not my ideal, but it is better than FPTP: RT @leftfootfwd: Labour should support a "Yes" vote on AV: http://bit.ly/bofIw1

  4. House Of Twits

    RT @leftfootfwd Labour should support a "Yes" vote on AV: http://bit.ly/bofIw1

  5. Mark Thompson

    RT @houseoftwits: RT @leftfootfwd Labour should support a "Yes" vote on AV: http://bit.ly/bofIw1

  6. Mark Thompson

    On your final point, the Tories also do not trust FPTP to elect their own leaders. Instead they whittle them down round by round with the MPs as the electoral college (which is a bit like AV) until they reach the top two in this respect and then put the two candidates to a vote of the party membership.

    If FPTP is so wonderful they should have the courage of their convictions and put all candidates to a vote of the public with the one who gets the most votes winning. Even if that meant their leader only had 20% or 30% of the vote. Oh, and it could easily have ended up being someone like David Davis or even Liam Fox last time.

  7. @_Jock

    The AV proposals come with a redrawing of the current boundaries. These changes would be most damaging in places where Labour already has seats. So while you may think that AV would help Labour it would not.
    If Labour want’s to get reelected we should do it through winning support by communicating our morals and values, and representing the people who need us most. Not by playing games to stack the deck in our favour.

  8. Electoral Reform Soc

    RT @leftfootfwd: Labour should support a "Yes" vote on AV: http://bit.ly/bofIw1

  9. Molly Moggs

    RT @leftfootfwd: Labour should support a "Yes" vote on AV: http://bit.ly/bofIw1

  10. Chris Paul

    RT @HouseofTwits: RT @leftfootfwd Labour should support a "Yes" vote on AV: http://bit.ly/bofIw1

  11. Jon Worth

    I very much agree Will!

    But this is going to require a very organised and determined campaign over the next 10 months. I’m ready to play my part in that…

  12. Compass

    RT @leftfootfwd: Labour should support a "Yes" vote on AV: http://bit.ly/bofIw1

  13. johnhalton

    RT @leftfootfwd: Labour should support a "Yes" vote on AV: http://bit.ly/bofIw1

  14. AV may prove to be a sticky wicket for progressives… « My Political Ramblings

    […] are included within the referendum as a clause. This has to be watched with care. This is something Left Foot Forward missed out when arguing for Labour to support AV as they argue it will help Labour more than the […]

  15. Malcolm Evison

    Labour should support a "Yes" vote on AV | Left Foot Forward: http://bit.ly/aVVKN2 via @addthis

  16. Andrew Parrington

    RT @leftfootfwd: Labour should support a "Yes" vote on AV http://bit.ly/bofIw1

  17. Anon E Mouse

    @_jock – Here here on your final comment – as for redrawing the boundaries it’s not before time.

    One thing though if this AV fails to be won then the PR the Lib Dem’s crave will be dead in the water…

  18. Andrew Leask

    Absolutely – it's a great system – @leftfootfwd: Labour should support a "Yes" vote on AV: http://bit.ly/bofIw1

  19. Chris Bramall

    RT @leftfootfwd: Labour should support a "Yes" vote on AV: http://bit.ly/bofIw1

  20. Ving Faction

    Labour should support a “Yes” vote on AV http://j.mp/adHX6E

  21. William Summers

    RT @ving_faction Labour should support a “Yes” vote on AV http://j.mp/adHX6E

  22. cim

    While I agree with all the other reasons you give for why Labour should support AV, this one – as well as, as others have pointed out, being deeply cynical – is not necessarily true.

    “the Alternative Vote is likely to help Labour at the expense of the Conservatives.

    This is only true so far as the Lib Dem voters are more likely to second-preference Labour rather than the Conservatives. I ran various speculative scenarios here, and essentially the difference between AV and FPTP depends on who the Lib Dem voters see themselves as closer to. If the left of the Lib Dems deserts the party to join a renewed Labour party, it would actually be the Conservatives who benefited most from AV.

  23. Ben Craig

    RT @leftfootfwd: Labour should support a "Yes" vote on AV http://bit.ly/bofIw1

  24. Mr. Sensible

    Will, as I have said before I do not support this.

    Changing the voting system could result in perminant coalition government, and after what has happened with the Con Dem Nation I think that is to be avoided.

    After all, when we got this Hung Parliament, everyone thought the Lib Dems would not want anything to do with the Tories. In the event, they didn’t just do a ‘confidence and supply’ agreement; they went in to a full-blown coalition, and have now detinated the ‘VAT bombshell’ they campaigned against.

    Second, as others have said, I think the argument that it will help Labour may be misleading. Because as others have said, it will come at the same time as a proposed redrawing of constituency boundries, otherwise known as gerrymandering.

    I notice that in yesterday’s Guardian, some people, including my former mP, who supported it are now less certain.

    But I think that by all means we should have the debate.

  25. cim

    Okay, there’s now some second-preference polling out. Based on what details there are, and assuming UNS and Uniform Transfers, if the Lib Dem voters split 39/27 Con/Lab, and the UKPR polling average is correct, the result for the English seats under current boundaries would be approximately:
    Party: Seats won (portion of Seat change from AV) (portion of Seat change from UNS)
    Conservative: 390 (+76) (+18)
    Labour : 119 (-88) (+16)
    Lib Dem : 22 (+12) (-33)
    Others : 0 (0) (-1)

    The Conservatives do far better out of AV than anyone else in that scenario. Of course, the assumptions made are not necessarily accurate, and the polling has several years to change.

    Mr. Sensible: I think it’s very rare that AV – rather than a PR system – would cause a coalition government when FPTP wouldn’t. 1992 and 2010 are the only recent elections where AV would probably have given no party an overall majority (and of course in 2010 that happened anyway, and in 1992 the Tory majority had disappeared by the end, so probably not much change there)

  26. Will Straw

    cim – Interesting polling. These numbers are, of course, largely meaningless since we are nearly five years from the next general election. Those figures reflect current Lib Dem happiness with the coalition (more are supportive than negative). If we move to a system of AV it will essentially reflect the public’s happiness or otherwise with the coalition (particularly with LD voters). If you are a LD voter and want to retain the coalition, you’ll give your second pref to a Tory; if you want to end it, you will vote Labour. Labour’s challenge is to (a) look like a credible government in waiting, and (b) persuade LD voters to cast their second preference with Labour as a means of bringing down the Coalition.

    Mr Sensible – I’m afraid cim is right on the hung parliament point. AV can end up being less proportional than FPTP (eg in 1997 it would have increased Labour and LDs seats at the expense of Conservatives).

  27. cim

    Those figures reflect current Lib Dem happiness with the coalition

    I don’t know if that’s true. Lib Dem support has fallen 6 points since the election. If that was mostly from the most Labour-leaning Lib Dems (based on pre-election second preference polling) going to Labour or others, then it’s just about possible that none of the remaining LD voters have changed their mind at all.

    If you are a LD voter and want to retain the coalition, you’ll give your second pref to a Tory; if you want to end it, you will vote Labour.

    Not so sure about this. On the current polling – which I agree is largely meaningless – the Conservatives could get a substantial outright majority of 100 seats or more if LDs favoured them for 2nd prefs, which would definitely bring down the coalition… Reversing the balance of 2nd preferences gives Labour a substantial English plurality (despite them being around 8 points behind on first preferences) though probably not quite enough for a majority government, and the few remaining Lib Dems might be able to stay in power.

    Labour’s challenge is to (a) look like a credible government in waiting, and (b) persuade LD voters to cast their second preference with Labour as a means of bringing down the Coalition.

    Totally agreed here.

    AV can end up being less proportional than FPTP

    I believe 1997 is the only example of this for quite some time, though. It’s not designed as a proportional system, but it is relatively rare in a UK context that it would do worse than FPTP. It can magnify a genuine “anyone but X” landslide, though.

  28. Tom

    What a shame then that (the Guardian reports)
    Jack Straw – widely regarded as the UK leading Conservative –
    is attempting to bloc a referendum. Jack Straw really is a nasty peice of work.

    Really Labour should be supporting AV as a move towards the Single Transferable Vote system. Why is it that equality goes out the window when Labour looks at votings systems? One vote, one value as the Chartists put it, or one vote, only valuable if your a swing voter in a marginal seat as new Labour puts it.

  29. Simon Norton

    I am concerned that the AV referendum is being linked with the removal of seats from the House of Commons which, as Compass has said, will harm Labour. Are the Tories deliberately trying to alienate Labour voters so that the referendum will fail ? Or alternatively to entrench their control so as to prevent the onward move to PR which is what most Lib Dems and many Labour people really want ?

    I fear that if organisations like Compass campaign for a “yes” vote then this will be playing the Tories’ game. And I say this as one who totally agrees that AV is better than FPTP and who is not a Labour Party member.

  30. Simon Norton

    Sorry, when I wrote the last post I forgot that this discussion was led by Left Foot Forward, not Compass. However when I said “organisations like Compass” I intended to include both.

  31. Simon Foster

    RT @leftfootfwd: Labour should support a "Yes" vote on AV http://bit.ly/aVVKN2

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