Friday 12 June 2009

How proportional is my vote?

I'm not sure how committed Gordon Brown is to real electoral reform, but I suspect that it's just another piece of spin rather than a serious intention for reform. The only thing he's actually said to date is that he wants a debate around the subject, and that the system should only be changed if there's a real consensus. There is a danger that it is seen as clutching at straws, given the prospect of the Labour Party disappearing into the wilderness for some considerable time.

Nevertheless, I welcome the fact that he's at least prepared to see a debate on the subject. But how should we respond?

I'm clear from the outset that I (and Plaid) prefer the STV system, with multi-member constituencies, as being the one which gives the most representative membership of any elected body. It seems however that Gordon Brown is seeking to limit the discussion to 'AV - yes or no?'.

There's a good article by Owain Llŷr of the Electoral Reform Society in yesterday's Western Mail on the issue. He's right to identify the fact that whilst AV means that fewer constituencies are 'safe' for one party or another, it does not produce a much more representative parliament, and still leaves a significant number of constituencies where there is no real contest.

Those are sound reasons for rejecting AV; but I'm not convinced at this stage that we should take such a simplistic response. If we are really to be faced with the possibility of 'AV – take it or leave it', then are we better off taking it or leaving it? It's one of those circumstances where we may well have to choose between holding out for what we think is right, or accepting what's available and treating it as a first step. Principle vs pragmatism?

At this stage, I'll reserve judgement.

1 comment:

Cibwr said...

A difficult one, we should never go for a system that benefits ourselves but for the principle. I don't think that AV is a good system, it is in many ways better than FPTP but can produce some truly unrepresentative results. History gives us some cases, such as the victory of the National Party in South Africa in 1948, where it gave disproportionate support to a minority party.

Pragmatically if that is the only game in town it at least gets people used to the idea of ranking candidates and is good preparation (in a sense) for STV.
I think some politicians make much of the virtues of single member constituencies, ie they represent natural communities, you represent all the people in a defined area and the area you represent is kept fairly small. Well that can be countered. Parliamentary constituencies rarely follow natural community boundaries, frequently splitting large towns almost arbitrarily to form equal sized consituencies, swapping wards with neighbours to keep aproximately the same size as populations grow or move. Or they combine core areas and other areas added on to make up the size etc. They are rarely coterminous with other units, such as local government and cause some confusion.

Personally I think STV is the way to go, with consituencies varying in size between 3 and 6 members being the norm.
Overall I'd cautiously say yes go with AV if that is all on offer, but only after pressing hard for STV.