Wednesday, 10 June 2009

Electoral reform- keep the BNP at bay

So we are going to have a discussion about introducing an Alternative Vote system of voting for the House of Commons. This is electoral reform but not proportional representation. The virtue of AV is that it forces candidates to build an ongoing relationship with a greater portion of their voters. It also has more volatile aspects to it than first past the post which is a good thing: it makes representatives more accountable.

Electoral reform in this manner is a good thing because it increases popular sovereignty. Proportional representation is a bad thing for the same reason. It actually diminishes popular sovereignty as it hands power to political elites who distribute the spoils in accordance with an elite bargaining game. Danny Alexander of the Lib Dems laments that the current system is 'unfair.' Yes, from the perspective of his party- self-interest always weighs heavily in this debate- it is. But fairness to the Liberal Democrats or the Greens or UKIP or the BNP is not the overriding concern. Popular sovereignty is.

What the expenses scandal has shown is that there is dangerous distance between MPs and their constituents and this is partly caused by the excessive stability of first past the post. If you lose, it is because your party has lost. It is very rarely because of your performance as an MP. This is unacceptable. If AV facilitates more independence amongst MPs then even better. That would be one of the means of increasing the independence of Parliament and holding the executive to account. All these things are a thoroughly good idea. So let's not have a discussion Prime Minister- these things have been debated in infinite detail. Let's get on with it for goodness sake.

Now, you'll notice the BNP creeping into this post above. There is a misconception that electoral reform means that the BNP will find their way into Parliament. I would be surprised if they could get into Parliament needing more than 50 per cent of the vote in any single constituency. In fact, I would say that the safeguards against BNP representation are even greater in AV than in the current system. It is very important to differentiate AV and PR in this debate.

But there is a broader issue here. Yes, the BNP wouldn't have 2 MEPs if there had not been a system of PR in these European elections. But they wouldn't had the Labour vote not collapsed either- both staying at home and going to a whole host of other parties. That is a bigger issue which I've addressed in my LabourList column which I'll link to later.

So, AV yes. PR no. And AV will keep the BNP at bay.

1 comment:

  1. Proportional representation is just an ungainly phrase that means "you get what you vote for". A better way of saying it would be "a fair voting system".

    AV is phony reform. Pretty much the same people get elected, only with even less diversity.

    Proportional representation gives voters the power to hold politicians and political parties accountable, by giving every voter a vote that actually makes a difference — actually helps to elect somebody.

    Fair voting does not cause nazis, and rigging the voting system won't get rid of them.

    The BNP also elected three local councillors this week under first-past-the-post. Perhaps you would like to abolish voting altogether?