Posted Under: Democracy
Electoral reform is an odd thing. Lots of people want it but for as many different reasons. For some, there is a basic democratic imperative to ensure that parliament reflects more proportionally the expressed will of the people . For some Lib Dems, getting rid of first past the post might primarily be a tactical necessity. For me it is about the kind of radical democracy I want Britain to have.
Sadly I believe that the alternative vote system proposed by Brown will take us further from the radical and dynamic democracy that we need. Single member constituencies will be maintained, but voters will rank candidates in order of preference. If no canditate gets more than 50% of the vote, then second preferences will be taken into account to determine the winner.
When I put the case for PR in the past, I argued that the current system artificially maintains the dominance of the major parties, and systematically excludes smaller and newer parties from political representation. And while the Alternative Vote system might lead to a fairer distribution of seats amongst the big three, the AV system – by redistributing votes from smaller parties to the biggest – will not fundamentally challenge the exclusion of minority tendencies.
Perhaps more importantly, AV is a recipe for an inoffensive democracy, and I don’t mean that in a good way. In a deeply unequal and differntiated society such as ours, any politician wishing to make serious use of the political process must, by necessity, champion some interests at the expense of others. Yet politicians who rely on clocking up second preference votes to win polls will, by contrast, be compelled to offend the fewest people possible. A politician with a bold vision that inspires a substantial portion of the electorate to pick him as their first choice will not be returned to parliament. A politician who seems tolerable to the widest section of people, will.
The major arguent in favour of AV is that, by keeping single member constituencies, it keeps hold of the good old constituency MP, capable of going to London to speak up for the men and women of his locality. Yet the idea of the constituency MP – returend to parliament to represent 100,000 odd people who happen to live is his or her constituency – is to some extent romanticised garbage. Throughout his or her careers an MP will be called upon to take decisions which disavow the interests and values of substantial sections of the constituents. In this sense the idea of a “constituency mp” owes more to our sentimental attachment to place and province (perhaps a curiously british disease) than to political reality.
By contrast, a truly proportional system – which does away with single member constituencies – is arguably more honest. An MP is elected not as the “member for lancaster” but as a socialist, conservative or liberal”. They are their to speak for those who have chosen to support their agenda and stand to benefit from it. As such we, the citizens, are represented not merely as residents of particular localities but as agents.
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