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Saturday, April 23, 2011

Vince Cable is wrong to make AV vote partisan

In calling for a yes vote in the referendum on the voting system so as to secure a 'progressive majority' of Liberal Democrat and Labour voters as an alternative to another century of Tory dominated governments, Vince Cable has significantly raised the stakes on 5th May. Although I implicitly support his objective, I cannot agree with his conclusions as to the impact of the Alternative Vote.

The fact is that both Labour and the Tories have won majorities in Parliament on a minority of the vote. AV may be fairer but there is no way that it will skew elections towards a progressive majority as the Business Secretary argues. Indeed there is evidence to suggest that where one party has a commanding lead in the polls then AV will magnify that impact, sending transfers their way as well.

It is certainly the case that in an election such as the one held in 1997, parties with a mutual interest could persuade their supporters to transfer to the other. But these elections are rare and they are not dominated by parties of the left or centre left.

The argument for AV, which is after all no more than a stepping stone to full proportionality, is that in individual constituencies it will ensure that an MP cannot be elected until he or she has secured a broad coalition of support approaching 50% of the vote. It will reduce the number of safe seats and it will assist smaller parties to reflect their support in the number of MPs they secure.

Where Vince has got it right is in his tactics. Firstly, he is right to reflect the fact that the outcome of the referendum relies on how Labour supporters vote, thus the talk of progressive alliances. Secondly, he also knows that in the forthcoming local and national elections on May 5th, it is important for the Liberal Democrats to provide some distance between themselves and their coalition partners.

I also agree with Vince's distaste for the No to AV leaflet that contains a highly personal, brutal and inaccurate attack on Nick Clegg. This leaflet amounts to the revenge of the Tory grassroots for the way that the Liberal Democrats have constrained the worst excesses of the Conservative agenda in government. It deserves an equally partisan response.
Interesting Peter, I am no fan of AV as such, and I am amazed that this was all the Lib Dems could get out of the Tories. While I did not expect you to be able to get STV (just about everyone's preferred proportional system) I did expect you to push for the Jenkins AV+ system.

Having said that, the arguments advanced by the No side have convinced me to vote Yes. They are partisan and frankly insulting to the electorate.
I suspect Vince is just referencing the maths:

did the no leaflet originate from the Tory side? I thought it came from Labour.
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