Tuesday, 17 May 2011


Andy Roberts writes:

I just read your article in Tribune about the alternative vote referendum.

I voted "yes", and I think, as a PR supporter since forever and a day, that you are probably profoundly wrong, strategically, about this – I say probably because, at the end of the day, who really knows?

Of course, much of what you say is quite correct – not least that this was a vote for something which virtually no-one really supports (apart from Peter Hain – I still have a copy of his pamphlet Proportional Misrepresentation from the 1980s, with which I have always strongly disagreed). A "miserable little compromise" indeed …

I was initially doubtful about voting “yes”, given the polls then, on the grounds that if it was successful, it could stymie further progress towards PR.

However, I was convinced by the argument – made by David Lipsey, at a meeting of the Labour Campaign for Electoral Reform – that once one change was made, and the existing system was de-mystified and not seen as something eternal and existentially "British" (to quote John Reid), it would be easier to make future changes.

If you look at the election results, it does seem to bear this out. Those regions which have already had some experience of different electoral systems were more pro-change (though not massively so).

The “yes” vote (by percentage) for the UK regions was as follows:
Northern Ireland 43.6
London 39.5
Scotland 36.3
Wales 34.5
South West 31.5
Yorkshire and the Humber 31.2
North West 30.2
South East 29.6
Eastern 29.0
East Midlands 28.7
West Midlands 28.5
North East 28.0
(There was also a particularly strong pro-change trend in a number of inner London boroughs - the reasons for which I am not clear about – but it would be interesting to know why, for instance, there was a 10,000 majority in favour of AV in Hackney.)

Anyway, although we obviously now have to start from the argument, as you say, that PR was not even tested in the referendum, I am not sure that the majority of the electorate are going to see it that way. I fear that the argument that the referendum endorsed first past the post will win the day for many years to come. I can only hope that I am wrong on this.

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