Our endorsement for the AV referendum in the United Kingdom

On Thursday, Britain will have the opportunity to vote in a referendum to replace the “First-past-the-post” electoral system for the so-called “Alternative Vote” system. Much has been said about both systems and their positive and negative aspects. We believe FPTP is a relic of the past, an unfair system that punishes smaller parties –including the Liberal Democrats, the Green Party and UKIP– and gives disproportionate power to the big two parties, the Conservatives and Labour.  There could be no better proof of this than the distribution of seats that resulted from last year’s general election. In 2010, under FPTP, the Conservative Party obtained 36% of the popular vote and 47% of seats in Parliament (306), the Labour Party got 29% of the votes and an astonishing 40% of seats (258), the Liberal Democrats got 23% of the votes and only 9% of seats. In other words, the difference in popular votes between Labour and Lib Dems was of only 6%, but Labour more than quadrupled Lib Dems in seats. How can anyone with democratic values defend such an unfair and undemocratic electoral system?  

The Alternative Vote system (also known as “AV”) is not the truly proportional and democratic system we would like to see in the UK, but it’s an enormous improvement compared to FPTP. AV would give voters more choice and add a dose of competition to an often static political system. Perhaps the funniest thing during this referendum campaign was the attitude adopted by the Conservative Party. Conservatives have nothing to fear from AV, on the contrary, they wouldn’t be much affected by it. It’s very likely that the Labour Party would lose more seats under AV than the Tories. Yet the Tory Party machine has been the most vocal opponent of a switch to AV.  One must wonder if this strong opposition is a product of their disdain for any kind of change (after all, they’re called “conservatives” for a reason) or just plain foolishness on their part. We’re rather surprised to see such a strong push on behalf of the NO campaign by David Cameron. He had no need to be such an active player in this referendum. Is he so unsure about his leadership within the Conservative Party?   

On the other hand, Ed Miliband, the Labour leader, has been a strong supporter of the YES camp, but he has lacked the spine to get most of his party’s MPs on board. If he can’t even convince his own party’s MPs to follow his leadership, can he be trusted to lead a government? He’s starting to look as a weak an interim leader, not a serious contender for the next election.   

Voters can be short-sighted sometimes. Many so-called “progressives” and left-leaning voters will be tempted to vote NO just to punish Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg and his party for what they see as a betrayal of “left values.” That would be a terrible mistake. This is a once-in-a -lifetime chance to improve a discredited and undemocratic voting system. Do they really want to waste this opportunity for a misguided view of Mr Clegg’s party’s role in this government (which, by the way, we think has been superb)?  

It’s time for the so-called “progressive majority” to show how progressive it really is. Is it progressive enough to see beyond tribalism and short-term disillusion with a political party that happens to be the major force of progressive change in Britain’s history? Or is it as foolish and short-sighted as their supposedly reactionary Conservative rivals? On Thursday, we’ll know the answer.