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Friday, September 04, 2009

Change for change's sake

The article by Huw Irranca Davies in yesterday's Western Mail calling for a referendum on changing Britain's voting system within the next few months is a strange one.

Mr. Davies has been around long enough to know that you cannot just launch into a referendum. For a start you need an Act of Parliament to authorise it, you need a clear position to be voted on and the approval of the Electoral Commission for the question and you need a campaign to try and win it. He has none of those things.

The only conclusion that can be drawn then is that Mr. Davies was attempting to define a position in the hope of pulling others in behind him. Unfortunately for him his ideas are so conservative and unimaginative that he has little chance of that happening.

The Minister thinks that our current first past the post system should be replaced by a proportionate voting system but the method of voting he has in mind is straight alternative voting, where we retain the existing single member constituencies but allow people to number the candidates in order of preference so that, after transfers, the winner must get 50% of the vote.

It is marginally better than what we have at present but not much. It is not a proportional system nor will it give Mr. Davies the party advantage he thinks. That is because non-aligned voters tend to go with the flow when expressing second and third preferences and at present the Labour Party are not benefiting from that sort of support.

More importantly straight AV reinforces the stranglehold of the big parties on the electoral system and mitigates against independents.

Mr. Davies argues that he would not support the more proportional single transferable vote because he says he wants to retain the constituency link. Yet STV does keep a constituency link it is just that an MP would need to share his constituents with others, often from different parties, and that is the crux of his objection.

Like many other Labour and Conservative MPs, Mr. Davies is not comfortable with pluralism. His objective is to shore up his position not to share power nor to give a genuine voice to the disenfranchised voters in his constituency who do not vote Labour. In other words, his call for a referendum is just another example of tribal politics from a politician who is struggling to come to terms with the decline in traditional allegiances amongst voters.
As the likelihood of Labour and the Tories even contempating STV seems remote, is it worth thinking through a modification of the original Jenkins proposal for the Alternative vote supplemented by a regional list on which voters can express their preference for individual candidates perhaps in numerical order; STV minus perhaps?
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