WRITING for Briefings for Brexit, Ashley Walsh says the Labour Party should scrap its policy on the EU and abandon its call for voting reform in the form of Proportional Representation.
As a ‘former Labour councillor’ he is concerned to save the Labour Party. I’m not – and I also loathe the Conservative Party and the ‘Liberals’. Political parties are what’s wrong with politics. Like flesh-and-blood creatures, organisations have a will to live quite apart from any justification for their existence. The disconnect between Parliament and the people is owing to the absorbing, insular in-fighting in Westminster.
PR would worsen this: it turns voting for a representative into voting for a party, and the latter then decides on who will be your named representative. Many MPs are already too focused on what their Parliamentary bosses and pals want; we really don’t need a system that makes the party the unit of political currency.
But as I wrote here long ago, First Past The Post is a terrible arrangement and suits the databank psephologists and strategy managers of the parties, for whom only ‘the swing voter in the swing seat’ matters. Though I have always voted, throughout my adult life, my vote has had effectively no power at all, with perhaps one exception when the constituency boundaries changed again (and by which time New Labour had thoroughly outworn its welcome) – thanks to the ‘safe seat’ where I live. The consequence for me and my fellow voters was to be taken for granted.
I suppose Labour likes the idea of PR because according to numbers of votes cast in the latest General Election the Tories would not have gained a majority and Labour would not have had the scale of cull that it has suffered. Result: a hung Parliament, again?
But I’m not convinced that AV would have had the same result. Under AV, you list your preferences so second and third options can come into play if there is not a clear 50%+1 majority in the first count (and two-thirds of seats in the Commons – including the one for my constituency – are gained on a minority of votes cast). The winning candidate is likely to be the one who has tried hardest to win over the centre ground – a centre that will be different in each constituency.
Had AV been the system three weeks ago, I think the Conservatives would still have won, thanks to crossover voting from Brexiteers. Let’s also not forget that there could be others for whom the Tories might have been a grudging second preference – after all, think of the Northern Labour voters who even held their noses and plumped for Boris as a first choice!
A version of AV is what MPs themselves employ when deciding on a new Speaker – in that case, it’s done by a series of rounds in which the lowest scorer is eliminated each time, so the voting behaviour is influenced by who is left in the competition. It doesn’t guarantee a great Speaker, but what could?
AV is also the system that the National Government wished to introduce in 1931; the Bill passed the Commons but the government fell before it could pass through all of the other stages. (The Lords wanted PR – why?)
In an extraordinary General Election, we’ve had the ‘second referendum’ that the subversives wanted; perhaps the other second referendum we should have is a rerun of the 2011 one on AV – this time, with balanced media coverage for a change, as we had in 2016 (I still puzzle over how the latter happened). And this time, Labour might go for it – thus benefiting democracy.