Sunday, 12 September 2010
Is AV Much of an Alternative?
Green party autumn conference, which is being held in Birmingham over the next few days, will debate whether or not to back the Alternative Vote referendum in a session on Monday 13 September. In the Green party, conference actually makes policy, unlike the main parties where conferences are little more than cheer-leading events for the leadership, where votes can be disregarded. Anyway, side swipe delivered, back to AV. Under an AV voting system, voters get to rank candidates 1,2,3 etc, and a winner needs 50% of first preference, or first and second preference votes to be elected.
I think the prevailing mood will be to back AV, recognising that this system is not proportional in any way, which is the kind of electoral system that we would like to see introduced, but on the basis that it will be a small step in the right direction, and will help the Green party elect more MP’s. Indeed, I am expecting one of my local party colleagues to make the case for AV on this blog at some later point.
I have to say though, that this is not my personal view. I can see that it will probably benefit Caroline Lucas in Brighton Pavilion, with Labour voters likely to second preference the Green party, but I can’t see it doing us any good electorally anywhere else. To take the example of the London mayoral election in 2008, which is an AV type election, as guide to what might happen is instructive. The Green party candidate polled 23% of second preference votes, but these were useless as she only achieved 3.7% of first preference votes. In effect, the second preferences were wasted votes. Only the top two candidates in first preference votes, gain from second preferences.
The danger is, I think, that with the coalition government we have at present, the tendency of first preference Conservative and Lib Dem voters will be to second preference their coalition partner’s party at the ballot box. Labour voters will probably, by and large, second preference the Green party, but because we don’t get enough first preference votes in most constituencies, these will be wasted votes again. The AV system, coupled with boundary changes, could keep the ConDem government in power forever, which is why the Lib Dem leadership in particular, are so keen to move to this system. In my view, this is a highly undesirable outcome, saddling us with a reactionary, free trade neo liberalism, at a time when Labour is talking a more social democratic language in its leadership contest, than it has for a generation.
So although AV on the face of it seems a more democratic electoral system, it has the potential to build in a permanent government coalition of the right, with even less chance than under the present First Past The Post system, of getting the kind of radical changes that are needed to deliver the social and ecological justice that I would like to see.