Saturday, 12 March 2011


The Times carried a letter yesterday signed by a list of eminent historians – no link because of paywall – arguing for a "no" vote in the alternative vote referendum:
Our nation's history is deeply rooted in our parliamentary democracy, a democracy in which, over centuries, men and women have fought for the right to vote.

That long fight for suffrage established the principle of one man or woman, one vote. The principle that each person's vote is equal, regardless of wealth, gender, race, or creed, is a principle to which generations of reformers have dedicated their lives. It is a principle upon which reform of our parliamentary democracy still stands.

The referendum on 5th May which threatens to introduce a system of 'Alternative Voting' — a voting system which will allow MPs to be elected to Parliament even if they do not win the majority of constituents' first preference votes — also threatens to break this principle.

For the first time since 1928 and the granting of universal suffrage, we face the possibility that one person's casting ballot will be given greater weight than another. For the first time in centuries, we face the unfair idea that one citizen's vote might be worth six times that of another. It will be a tragic consequence if those votes belong to supporters of extremist and non-serious parties.

Twice in our past, the nation has rejected any threat to the principle of one citizen, one vote. The last time, in 1931, Winston Churchill stood against the introduction of an Alternative Vote system. As he argued, AV would mean that elections would be determined by "the most worthless votes given for the most worthless candidates". He understood that it was simply too great a risk to take.

The cause of reform, so long fought for, cannot afford to have the fundamentally fair and historic principle of majority voting cast aside; nor should we sacrifice the principle which generations of men and women have sought: that each being equal, every member of our society should cast an equal vote.

For these reasons, we urge the British people to vote "No" on May 5

Professor David Abulafia, Dr. John Adamson, Professor Antony Beevor, Professor Lord Bew of Donegore, Professor Jeremy Black, Professor Michael Burleigh, Professor John Charmley, Professor Jonathan Clark, Dr Robert Crowcroft, Professor Richard J Evans, David Faber, Professor Niall Ferguson, Orlando Figes, Dr. Amanda Foreman, Dr. John Guy, Robert Lacey, Dr. Sheila Lawlor, Lord Lexden, Simon Sebag Montefiore, Professor Lord Norton of Louth, Dr. Richard Rex, Dr. Andrew Roberts, Professor Richard Shannon, Chris Skidmore MP, Dr David Starkey, Professor Norman Stone, D.R. Thorpe, Alison Weir, Philip Ziegler

All good knockabout stuff – except that it's very poor history. The alternative vote was not rejected by the nation in 1931: the legislation to introduce it fell because the Labour government collapsed that summer. And although Winston Churchill was one of many MPs who spoke out against the alternative vote, the idea that his opinion was somehow decisive on the matter is laughable. The great man was at the lowest point of his political career, a Tory backbencher whose time as a political heavyweight seemed to nearly all his contemporaries to have passed. What killed off AV in 1931 was the massive landslide victory of the Tory-dominated National Government coalition in the general election of that year, which rendered any discussion of electoral reform completely academic.


  1. " ... except that it's very poor history."

    Given some of the august company contained in that list of signatories, you are a very cheeky monkey indeed. Not to mention correct.

  2. I'm no monkey. I'm a great ape.


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