Vote yes for progress and the progressive majority

Social Liberal Forum's Dr. Prateek Buch argues that Yes to AV would benefit the progressive majority and democracy in general.

Two topical political issues – the imminent referendum on the alternative vote, and the Liberal Democrat action to have Andrew Lansley’s health reforms significantly amended – are intimately linked, but perhaps not in the way in which press commentary might suggest. Contrary to some opinion, it’s a Yes vote that would strengthen the Lib Dems’ position within this and any coalition and would bring far greater progressive influence to bear on government.

Arguing for the status quo; a first-past-the-post electoral system that returns a majority of MPs without majority support and gave rise to the abuse of expenses amongst other distortions, the No campaign cites FPTP’s supposed ability to deliver ‘strong government’.

Leave aside the fact that a plural political landscape delivered a coalition even under the current system, and picture today’s Conservatives in power on their own: no rise in the income tax threshold or capital gains tax; tax cuts for the rich; and of course Lansley’s unpopular and non-evidence based NHS reforms pushed through unaltered.

It’s coalition government that’s kept a check on the worst Tory tendencies, and given a chance for progressive policies to be put into place.

Beyond the immediate impact of the referendum’s result on the internal dynamics of the current coalition, we need to analyse which result would be favourable to delivering a progressive, centre-left agenda in the long run.

As Vince Cable made plain at the weekend, it’s clear that a plural, progressive alliance, largely reflecting the nation’s centre of political gravity, has been thwarted in recent years by FPTP. Successive governments – whether Blue or Red – have formed on the back of an electoral system that leaves many millions of people without an MP they support to any degree, and have enjoyed a virtually free hand in parliament to pursue policies that fail to enhance the interests of most of the electorate.

It’s time to bring the undemocratic farce that is FPTP to an end, and May 5th’s referendum is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to do so.

So would AV give us better government – would it lead to fewer fiascos like the current NHS reforms?

Of course the best way to have excellent progressive policies implemented is to have a majority government elected on such a platform – as Nick Clegg made clear in a keynote speech last week. Failing that, an electoral system that forces MPs to canvass broader support, that gives each voter at least some say in who represents them, and that makes plural government more likely, is a clear improvement over the status quo.

Not only would Conservatives find it harder to push through ideologically-driven market reforms to public services – the NHS reforms being an example – but Labour’s authoritarian streak would also be quietened. And not only in coalition – any majority government returned by AV would have to take a more considered approach to public policy, taking account of how it sustains broad cross-party consensus for its manifesto.

It might not be the ideal way of organising our national politics, but the alternative vote is undoubtedly a better way; in giving everyone more of a say in how the country is run, it makes shrill appeals to a minority of voters or vested interests less likely to win absolute power – and that can only be a good thing.

49 Responses to “Vote yes for progress and the progressive majority”

  1. chris paling

    RT @leftfootfwd: Vote yes for progress and the progressive majority: //bit.ly/iVIpGG writes @prateekbuch

  2. Norvik_1602

    RT @leftfootfwd: Vote yes for progress and the progressive majority: //bit.ly/iVIpGG writes @prateekbuch

  3. Pete Murden

    RT @leftfootfwd: Vote yes for progress and the progressive majority: //bit.ly/iVIpGG writes @prateekbuch

  4. Alex Marsh

    RT @leftfootfwd: Vote yes for progress and the progressive majority: //bit.ly/iVIpGG writes @prateekbuch

  5. artuncut

    RT @leftfootfwd: Vote yes for progress and the progressive majority: //bit.ly/iVIpGG writes @prateekbuch

  6. Liberal Ideals

    Vote yes for progress and the progressive majority: By Dr. Prateek Buch, a research scientist and an executive m… //bit.ly/mat5yM

  7. Anna Fleur

    RT @leftfootfwd: Vote yes for progress and the progressive majority: //bit.ly/iVIpGG writes @prateekbuch

  8. Pete

    Right answer, wrong reason.

    “we need to analyse which result would be favourable to delivering a progressive, centre-left agenda in the long run”
    No! That is not the purpose of a voting system! Framing the debate in terms of “which one helps our side win” is utterly wrong. We want a voting system that best represents what the people want, whether we want that or not. That is why it is clear that whatever parties you may support, AV is the correct choice.

  9. Liberal Ideals

    Vote yes for progress and the progressive majority: By Dr. Prateek Buch, a research scientist and an executive m… //bit.ly/jDEnpk

  10. Liberal Ideals

    Vote yes for progress and the progressive majority: By Dr. Prateek Buch, a research scientist and an executive m… //bit.ly/mwDSPr

  11. Ash

    “picture today’s Conservatives in power on their own: no rise in the income tax threshold or capital gains tax; tax cuts for the rich; and of course Lansley’s unpopular and non-evidence based NHS reforms pushed through unaltered. It’s coalition government that’s kept a check on the worst Tory tendencies, and given a chance for progressive policies to be put into place.”

    Good grief, we’re not *still* being asked to believe the Lib Dems (under their present Orange Book leadership) are a progressive force, are we?

    As has been pointed out on this site many times, raising the tax threshold has always been a regressive and thoroughly Tory policy (though it’s actually *so* regressive that even Michael Howard’s Tories rejected it): among those on very low to fairly high incomes, it gives least to those who have least and most to those who have most. Fund that policy by raising VAT, as the Coalition are doing, and you have a ‘perfect storm’ of regressive taxation: people too poor to pay income tax are subsidising income tax cuts for households on anything up to £80,000 a year.

    And just as the Lib Dems’ tax policy is thoroughly Tory, so the Tories’ NHS policy is thoroughly Lib Dem. It involves very much the sort of “ideologically-driven market reforms” David Laws called for in the Orange Book.

    Of course, while the Lib Dem leadership is now broadly market liberal, there are still plenty of social liberals among grassroots Lib Dems – and they are successfully putting some pressure on the leadership over the NHS etc. But arguably their position would be *weaker*, not stronger, if Clegg & co thought their position in a coalition was more secure.

  12. Extradition Game

    RT @leftfootfwd: Vote yes for progress and the progressive majority: //bit.ly/iVIpGG writes @prateekbuch

  13. Prateek Buch

    RT @leftfootfwd: Vote yes for progress and the progressive majority: //bit.ly/iVIpGG writes @prateekbuch

  14. paul Reece

    RT @leftfootfwd: Vote yes for progress and the progressive majority: //bit.ly/iVIpGG writes @prateekbuch

  15. oldpolitics

    “Good grief, we’re not *still* being asked to believe the Lib Dems (under their present Orange Book leadership) are a progressive force, are we?”

    Yep. Never has the phrase “useful idiots” seemed more appropriate. Vote Yes to entrench the coalition for a generation. It’s OK, it’ll have Lib Dems in it.

  16. Alan Henness

    RT @leftfootfwd: Vote yes for progress and the progressive majority: //bit.ly/iVIpGG writes @prateekbuch

  17. Pimlicat

    RT @leftfootfwd: Vote yes for progress and the progressive majority: //bit.ly/iVIpGG writes @prateekbuch

  18. Adrian Trett

    RT @leftfootfwd: Vote yes for progress and the progressive majority: //bit.ly/iVIpGG writes @prateekbuch

  19. blogs of the world

    Social Liberal Forum's Dr. Prateek Buch argues that Yes to AV would benefit the progressiv… //reduce.li/mozvut #yes

  20. Jack Roberts

    Dr. Prateek Buch:

    I don’t know who you think you are, telling us how to run our “democracy”, but you would do well to remember that if that democracy had not been subverted, you would not be here.

  21. DrKMJ

    RT @leftfootfwd: Vote yes for progress and the progressive majority: //bit.ly/iVIpGG writes @prateekbuch

  22. Robert

    I shall be going down to town on election day, coming home and going back to bed, I doubt very much I will be voting for anyone on the 5th or for AV or not to AV

  23. Judy Jansons

    RT @ExtraditionGame: RT @leftfootfwd: Vote yes for progress and the progressive majority: //bit.ly/iVIpGG writes @prateekbuch

  24. Modicum

    There’s no strong evidence that AV will favour any particular party. If the Liberals continue to be toxic at the next election it won’t be of much help to them. In Australia AV has produced less hung parliaments than there have been in the UK.

    It’s better to focus on the merits of the system. AV is about ensuring that MPs have the majority support of their constituents, or the best approximation of it.

  25. Modicum

    It also means people can vote honestly, rather than having to support the lesser of two evils.

  26. Prateek Buch

    Interesting comments…

    @Ash – the amount of money that a raised income tax threshold gives to low earners in cash terms may be more for higher earners, but as a percentage of income it’s clearly better for lower earners – not least for those tens of thousands of low-waged people lifted away from income tax full stop. As a percentage of income it’s more impacting for those lower down the income scale, that is my understanding. As for your claim that the NHS policy is thoroughly Lib Dem – as it stands I can assure you it most certainly is not. Whatever was argued for in the Orange Book or elsewhere is not party policy, only what is passed by Conference is – a strange concept for those not familiar with internal party democracy I know but hey, we’re a strange lot it seems. Lib Dem party policy, our manifesto, even the Coalition agreement – the latter varied already from the former two – all differ significantly from Lansle’s proposed reforms which is why we’re calling for substantial changes to be made – but here isn’t the place to rehearse those differences, this was a post about AV… You’re right about there being plenty of social liberals within the party – indeed the social liberal forum considers itself a voice of mainstream Lob Dem opinion, working with the leadership to put into practice as many of our policies as we can in government.

    @oldpolitics – despite being in difficult circumstances Liberal Democrats are pressing for good progressive policies within this coalition – a coalition brought about by the distorted electoral mathematics of FPTP – and would continue to do so no matter who our partners in government were.

    @Jack Roberts: eh…? How exactly was democracy subverted…? That’s just such an odd position to take… Oh and also, please point out where I tell you how to run democracy? Part of the beauty of an open democratic society is that I get to raise an issue, discuss my opinions thereon, and engage with other people on that – none of that is telling you how to run anything.

    @Robert: I can understand the frustration with the political process, not least because of the distance between the electorate and those chosen to represent them. That’s precisely why you ought (I’m expressing an opinion here, not telling you how to do anything, see previous comment…) to vote Yes to AV – a small change that will make an enormous difference to how our politics is done, that will bring MPs closer in line with their constituencies, and will go a small way – only a small way – to re-engaging many people with politics…

  27. Dave Citizen

    “we need to analyse which result would be favourable to delivering a progressive, centre-left agenda in the long run”

    This statement looks decidedly dodgy to me. A voting system is for the long term and, for anyone who believes in democracy, the purpose of changing the system must surely be to make it more democratic. That way, our society reinforces incentives to educate and reward the entire population rather than just the parts of it which have the loudest voices.

    So, I will be voting for a change to AV but not because it favours my current political preferences. Even if I thought it might benefit the likes of the BNP or even the super rich, I would still vote for it. This is because I believe the only way to make society better is if all its members have an equal say.

  28. Ash

    @ Dr Buch –

    “the amount of money that a raised income tax threshold gives to low earners in cash terms may be more for higher earners, but as a percentage of income it’s clearly better for lower earners”

    First of all: millions of the very lowest earners, low-income pensioners, unemployed etc. will receive no benefit at all from a raised income tax threshold (though they will, of course, be paying more in VAT).

    Secondly: yes, it’s plausible that (say) £500 means twice as much to a low-income family as £1000 means to a high-income family (because it represents twice as high a percentage of their income). But why does that make it ‘progressive’ to give twice as much money to the rich as to the poor? And where is the sense in putting so much money in the pockets of people who benefit so little from it? (Ex hypothesi, that £1000 would have been worth four times as much to the lower-income family.)

    Just imagine if Labour had applied a sort of ‘reverse taper’ to tax credits, so that lower earners received a few hundred pounds each year and higher earners a few thousand. Would you regard that as a progressive policy because “as a percentage of income it’s clearly better for lower earners”?

    “Whatever was argued for in the Orange Book or elsewhere is not party policy, only what is passed by Conference is”

    No, it’s not party policy – I was suggesting it’s a “Lib Dem” policy in the sense that it reflects the values and beliefs of prominent Lib Dems.

  29. Mr. Sensible

    I can’t quite believe what I’m reading.

    Liberal Democrats have the gall to talk to us about the progressive majority given what they’re propping up?

    They tell us to look at what a purely Tory government would look like. The truth is that we have a reasonably good idea already. An increase in Income Tax thresholds which, aside from the arguments about it, is being paid for by ‘Cameron’s VAT Bombshell’ that the Lib Dems helped to detinate. Tuition Fees at £9000 in most, not a minority, but most cases. NHS reforms which, for all the concern on the backbenches Lib Dem ministers are as responsible for. On this, the Lib Dems and the government’s wider ‘Listening Exercise’ will be judged on actions and amendments, not words.

    Given Nick Clegg’s record, all this about a ‘Progressive Majority’ is a trick, and I hope the people don’t fall for it and do vote no to AV on Thursday.

  30. Modicum

    Labour have to accept their share of the blame for the current regime. After the election the only alternative to a Tory PM was a Labour PM. And it seems there were plenty in the Labour party who preferred to see Cameron enter Downing St.

  31. oldpolitics

    “In Australia AV has produced less hung parliaments than there have been in the UK.”

    For a very special definition of “hung parliament”, which doesn’t include Parliaments in which no party has an overall majority.

  32. SlashedUK

    RT @leftfootfwd: Vote yes for progress and the progressive majority: //bit.ly/iVIpGG writes @prateekbuch

  33. Ruben de Dios

    RT @SlashedUK: RT @leftfootfwd: Vote yes for progress and the progressive majority: //bit.ly/iVIpGG writes @prateekbuch

  34. SimonB

    The merits of a minority tory administration having to find consensus on tackling the financial crisis and then calling another election seem to have been forgotten. While I think AV is a step in the right direction the mention of coalitions is hardly going to encourage people to vote Yes on Thursday.

  35. Prateek Buch

    @Ash – (call me Prateek…!) Yes those who don’t pay income tax won’t benefit from the raised threshold – I accept this is an issue, but Universal Credit and a much higher minimum state pension will help. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think the Coalition has all its tax priorities right, I just think it’s better than what a minority Tory govt would have done – speaking of which @Simon8, I am sure that had the Lib Dems moved aside, refused to enter a coalition and we’d had Tory minority rule, you would be here slagging off Lib Dems for doing the opposite to what we did – you’d be saying that we shirked responsibility, chickened out etc. not to mention that a minority govt wouldn’t have to seek nearly as much consensus under supply and confidence than under outright coalition.

    @Mr. Sensible – couldn’t you equally say that the raised threshold was being paid for by raising capital gains tax – a measure you can be certain Tories on their own wouldn’t have brought in. I am not a fan of raising VAT but I do like to listen to the IFS – who said it wasn’t that bad a move when looked at across a person’s lifetime given the propensity for poorer people to spend more on zero-rated goods. Oh and by the by, lest we forget, Mr. Darling would’ve raised VAT as well – almost certainly without raising the inccome tax threshold I’d guess…

    @Modicum – fine analysis. reading many accounts of the coalition negotiations – from all parties – it’s fair to say Labour’s heart was not in governing, not least because the parliamentary maths didn’t stand up. In refusing to make significant concessions to the Lib Dems – as the Tories did to most people’s surprise – they showed they preferred the comfort of opposition to the harsh reality of governing during these dark times.

    A general comment. I do not want to create the impression that I support everything this coalition does. If you read my other stuff elsewhere you’ll see I think the current government has its NHS policy wrong, it’s free schools policy and aspects of its deficit reduction programme likewise, as well as making a royal fudge of tuition fees and not going far enough on the green agenda. Being critical of these things doesn’t take away from the fact that Lib Dems are making a positive contribution to government, all that can be asked at this stage. Yes we’d like to see more progressive policies implemented – of course we would, and social liberals on all sides of the partisan divides should work together to see that happen instead of sniping at each other – wouldn’t you agree?

  36. Mr. Sensible

    Prateek that’s 1 interpretation I suppose, but if you look at some of the Coalition’s tax cuts in the round; increasing the Income Tax threshold, cutting Corporation Tax, freezing Council Tax ETC, these cost £12 billion, and raising VAT cost £13 billion…

    And the Lib Dems could definetly have gone further on CGT.

    And on VAT I think we only need look what’s happened to our retailers…

    And where is the evidence Darling would have increased VAT; I don’t see any…

  37. Labour Yes

    Vote yes for progress and the progressive majority – //bit.ly/ijAxlf

  38. SoapboxLabourUK

    RT @labouryes: Vote yes for progress and the progressive majority – //bit.ly/ijAxlf

  39. Harry R

    RT @labouryes: Vote yes for progress and the progressive majority – //bit.ly/ijAxlf

  40. Trevor Stables

    RT @labouryes: Vote yes for progress and the progressive majority – //bit.ly/ijAxlf

  41. Dizzying Crest

    RT @labouryes: Vote yes for progress and the progressive majority – //bit.ly/ijAxlf

  42. Alan Marshall

    RT @labouryes: Vote yes for progress and the progressive majority – //bit.ly/ijAxlf

  43. Ash

    @ Prateek

    “couldn’t you equally say that the raised threshold was being paid for by raising capital gains tax”

    No, because the revenue raised by increasing CGT is nowhere near enough to recoup the revenue lost by increasing the income tax threshold. As Mr Sensible points out, the VAT rise raises just enough money to cover the cost of the Coalition’s tax cuts.

    “I don’t think the Coalition has all its tax priorities right, I just think it’s better than what a minority Tory govt would have done… Oh and by the by, lest we forget, Mr. Darling would’ve raised VAT as well – almost certainly without raising the inccome tax threshold I’d guess…”

    I’m not sure it *is* better than what a minority Tory government would have done, or better than raising VAT without raising the tax threshold, for two reasons:

    1 – the tax threshold rise compounds the regressive effects of policies that a minority Tory government would have enacted (benefit cuts, the VAT rise), rather than counteracting those effects. It puts a lot of money into the pockets of relatively well-off households, rather less into the pockets of low-to-average-income households, and none at all into the pockets of the very poorest households, whose incomes thereby shrink relative to the median.

    2 – every pound spent on tax cuts is a pound that can’t be spent on public services, poverty reduction, capital investment or cutting the deficit. I could just about forgive Alistair Darling raising £13 billion a year through a VAT rise in order to (say) cut the deficit by £6.5 billion and spend £6.5 billion on tax credits, job creation, green technology, school building etc – but using that money for an ill-targeted tax cut at a time like this is inexcusable. Again, it’s the poorest households who lose out (since they’re most reliant on public spending), while better-off households see the benefit. (This is not rocket science – public spending tends to benefit the poor, while tax cuts tend to benefit the better-off. This is the left/right, progressive/regressive, good guys/Tories divide in a nutshell.)

  44. Dave Citizen

    Prateek – we probably won’t get another chance to change our voting system for many years so lets use this opportunity wisely. The arguements should be about which system is better: = more democratic for me but your standard seems to be = more likely to deliver your politics of “the progressive majority”.

    The trouble with your approach to making the decision is that you get bogged down in arguements about what progressive politics looks like and whether AV really will deliver it anyway (see above!).

    To use this rare opportunity wisely we have to discuss what a better system looks like and be prepared to put our immediate political differences to one side. Once we have a more democratic system (i.e. makes a truer link between government decision making and voter preferences) the politics of the progressive majority should naturally follow. If it doesn’t then that’s the time to win the arguement for your version.

    Of course, those vested interests that gain from manipulating the current system have much to fear from democratic improvements. Focussing on the politics rather than the system lets them off the hook.

  45. Mark Blackburn

    A recent Liberal Democrat Voice survey found that 64% of the respondents referred to themselves as Social Liberals. Just because the mainstrean of the party allowed itself to be out-muscled, out-manouevred and outwitted by the Orange Book faction does not mean the rank and file of the party is honour-bound to give up the right to see itself as progressive. AV may not be the most representative voting system available, but it’s currently the only alternative available to the patently unrepresentative FPTP, and all progressives should unite to see it introduced on May 5th.

  46. Stevo

    //www.youtube.com/watch?v=I5DafglyyI0

    An AV video aimed at the average voter

  47. Ash

    Just to labour the point about the regressive nature of the tax threshold rise… (I really think this can’t be said too often, as so many people still think this is a progressive Lib Dem achievement.)

    In the late 90s, I was supporting a family of five on £14,000 a year. If the Labour Government had decided to raise the tax threshold to £10,000, at a cost of (I’d guess) £15-20 billion, we would have been around £1000 a year better off.

    Millions of single-earner families and single people on two or three times our income would also have been £1000 a year better off. Millions more two-earner families and couples on four or six times our income would have been £2000 a year better off. Meanwhile, a family on half our income might have been £400 a year better off. Even poorer families would have seen no benefit at all. Relative poverty would have increased, since the median net income would have risen while the incomes of very low earners, the unemployed, low-income pensioners etc stood still.

    Instead Labour spent that £15-20 billion on introducing tax credits. My family’s income went up by £3500 rather than £1000. Poorer families received more and richer families less. Single people on £30,000 or £40,000, and couples on £60,000 or £80,000 didn’t get anthing.

    It’s pretty obvious which is the more progressive use of public money, surely.

    It’s worth being explicit that I was effectively ‘lifted out of tax’ at that point, along with millions of other low-to-mid earners; I received in tax credits more than I paid in tax. The tax credit system could have been used by the Lib Dems to put an extra £700 into the pockets of low earners if that was genuinely the object of the exercise, and at around one tenth of the cost of raising the tax threshold.

    Spin about ‘lifting people out of tax’ aside, this is simply an across-the-board cut in direct taxation, funded by a rise in indirect taxation and mainly benefitting mid-to-high income households. And if that’s not a right-wing, Tory policy, I don’t know what is.

  48. Trevor Stables

    RT @labouryes: Vote yes for progress and the progressive majority – //bit.ly/ijAxlf

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