Monday, 8 November 2010


Independent on Sunday columnist John Rentoul is that rare beast, a supporter of the alternative vote as such and not just as a supposed stepping stone to proportional representation. He is pessimistic about his side's chances in the referendum, but he does at least argue for AV because it is not PR, which is a refreshingly honest stance:
It is just too easy for the opponents of change to misrepresent reform. The "no" campaign can throw everything at it: Italy, Israel, Ireland, Winston Churchill (who described the 1931 attempt as one to give power to the "most worthless votes of the most worthless candidates"), deal-making, fudge-and-mudge, and a system that won't let voters "kick the rascals out".

Against such nonsense defenders of the alternative vote can only explain patiently that being able to rank candidates in order of preference gives more voters more of a chance of a say in the outcome. It is not morally superior, or perfection, but it minimises the need for tactical voting and reduces wasted votes. Its supporters can use the slogans "power to the people" and "vote for what you really believe in". But they also have to try to make clear what AV is not: it is not a proportional system.

That is precisely why I would rank AV first in order of preference over all other systems. I am not keen on proportional representation because it tends to give disproportionate power to small parties.
This, however, is a problem for the "yes" campaign in Rentoul's opinion:
For most of its activists AV is a halfway house on the road to what they really want, which is proportional representation, where the number of MPs reflects each party's share of the national vote.
As Rentoul makes clear, AV would deliver nothing of the sort.

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