David Miliband backs Alternative Vote reform, lays down gauntlet to Cameron

With Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg set to announce 5th May, 2011, as the date of the referendum on electoral reform, David Miliband – currently the leading contender to become the next Labour leader – was this morning asked the direct question whether he would back the move to the Alternative Vote. His answer was unequivocal: yes, and he would be infavour of Labour members campaigning for it during the referendum campaign:

I think that it’s important that we move to a system where every Member of Parliament has at least 50 per cent of the vote of their constituents.”

It’s a welcome move. Although the Labour manifesto promised a referendum on the alternative vote, it was conceivable they would jettison the pledge; after all, Labour has already reneged on its manifesto commitment to fixed-term parliaments. So Mr (D) Miliband’s endorsement is a welcome move.

It also increases the pressure on David Cameron to confirm what role, if any, he will play in the referendum campaign. The Tory right-wing – mainly opposed to voting reform – will want their party leader to side with them. But Mr Cameron may well not wish to be out-flanked as a reformer by both Nick Clegg and (if elected) by Mr Miliband.

Moreover, what argument will Mr Cameorn level against the alternative vote? As I noted last month:

The principal argument Cameron has used against AV in the past is that it leads to weak, unstable government – which is a tricky case to argue while simultaneously leading a coalition government which you’re presenting as the face of ‘new politics’.

And of course Daniel Finkelstein floated the idea this week in The Times that the alternative vote would enable the coalition government to square the circle of how they fight the next election against each other while simultaneously defending their joint legacy: by urging their party supporters to cast their second preference for their coalition partner.

I think it’s highly unlikely Nick Clegg would attempt to tell potential Lib Dem voters to place the Tories second – what, after all, would be in it for the Lib Dems? We’ve already hitched our star to the Tories for the next five years, so why would we want to promise to renew the deal before the electorate has even spoken?

But I can see the attraction to David Cameron: it would be the ultimate liberal love-bomb.

If next May’s referendum is won, a smart Labour leader will spend the next four years ensuring that Lib Dem voters are prepared to place Labour second, and not the Tories. Tribal Labour supporters may be enjoying shouting ‘betrayal’ at the Lib Dems at every opportunity, but it’s a sure-fire way of driving away those moderate centrist voters which every party needs to woo.

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  • Matthew Huntbach 2nd Jul '10 - 12:34pm

    With AV there is just one argument to make:

    A and B are standing to become MP for a constituency. The people of the constituency prefer A to B, more of then would vote for A as MP than for B as MP.

    Now, NOTHING else changes – people’s views remains exactly the same, A and B stand for exactly the same things – except that C turns up and also stands as candidate.

    Anyone who opposes AV must give me a logical argument as to why C turning up means B rather than A could become MP even though the people still prefer A to B. There is nothing else to argue about on this matter.

    The argument about it leading to “weak governments” is to me an entirely separate thing. The opponents of PR say that it is good that Parliament should be composed entirely of members elected from single constituencies. Very well, AV is not PR, it is all members elected from single constituencies, so let the argument be on that basis.

    Anyone who says party representation should be distorted in order to make a single party government more likely should be honest to argue that case directly, and not dishonestly using it to argue for an electoral system which as a by-product in the electoral geography of the UK seems to deliver that. If distortion in favour of the largest party is good, let those who want it argue for an electoral system which guarantees that. That would be an HONEST argument from them, arguing for the current electoral system on the grounds it sometimes distorts in that way is dishonest. They may find on this link:


    a description of an electoral system used elsewhere in the past which more honestly fits their requirements. The electoral system there was endorssed by someone who, as they do, thought proportional representation was bad as it led to weak governments, and argued more honestly than our anti-PR people do for the case of “strong government”.

  • @Matthew

    There is no argument against that, except to say that AV can create exactly the same conditions:

    Under AV voters can still rate A>B, but as along as enough prefer C over A, A can be eliminated and B can triumph.

  • Andrew Suffield 2nd Jul '10 - 7:21pm

    Under AV voters can still rate A>B, but as along as enough prefer C over A, A can be eliminated and B can triumph.

    However, it’s worth noting that this only happens in near-tie situations. Sadly it doesn’t always pick the Condorcet winner, but people whine about the Schulze method being too complicated.

  • If every different party puts forward a candidate, and by chance several get the same number of votes, what would be decided about an alternative party ? Voters would feel that their wishes are not being accepted ?
    Regards, Siret

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