While not as entertaining as when explained to cats, the Guardian nonetheless has perhaps the most “authoritative” defense of the alternative vote system. It is signed by Labour shadow business secretary John Denham, Lib Dem energy and climate change secretary Chris Huhne, leader of the Green Party Caroline Lucas.
I have long thought the British system – like the American – is thoroughly dysfunctional and undemocratic, robbing much of the electorate of their voice and depriving the government of much-needed legitimacy.
A summary of the article’s arguments, which I think on the whole are rather persuasive:
- “You cannot build a fair society on an unfair politics. Britain consistently votes as a center-left country and yet the Conservatives have dominated our politics for two-thirds of the time since 1900. Only on two occasions in that long century – 1900 and 1931 – have the Tories won a majority of votes.”
- Margaret Thatcher’s “radical” reformist government twice had over 54% of people vote against her but she kept massive majorities. The electoral system, incidentally, had no incentive for her not to completely wreck Scotland and the north.
- The “wasted vote” produces apathy. There is no point being a Conservative in Scotland or the north and no point being a progressive in much of the south. (The same problem is compounded in the United States by state-wide FPTP elections. There is no point voting outside a swing state (and, for that matter, no point being black in a Southern state).
- This artificial polarization is “a recipe not for a parliament that holds up a mirror the nation, so that we can debate and resolve our differences, but one that deepens divisions and resentments.”
- “Back in 1950, [...] 85% of MPs won more than half of the vote in their constituency. Today, two thirds of MPs have more people voting against them than for them.”
- Foreigners: Few new democracies today adopt the British system, Australia adopted AV 80 years ago and New Zealand has adopted the German system. What a lonely “Mother of Parliaments”!
- The Tories oppose AV as the current system gives them overwhelming parliamentary majorities with minority public support.
- The racist British National Party opposes AV as they would be unable to get any majorities under this system. (An interesting, although possibly problematic, feature of AV is indeed being able to “censure” a candidate by all “mainstream” voters ranking him last.)