Dear David Davis…

Dear David Davis,

You have me confused.

In your speech today you warn against “the destruction of a 200-year-old constitution” and give this as a reason to oppose AV.

But aside from our voting system, there is another part of that 200 year old constitution that is also currently up for change before Parliament.

200 years ago the size of Parliamentary constituencies varied hugely. Much more than 5% or 10% and not simply on islands or in the Highlands. Massive variations were built into the system, specially to protect particular vested interests.

So if you are wanting to protect our 200 year old constitution, I would have thought you would be opposing equalising the size of Parliamentary constituencies? But looking at your Parliamentary record, I see that’s not the case.

Of course, other aspects of our 200 year old constitution that aren’t so hot either. Like not letting women have the vote. Or banning people from public office based on religion.

Or have I got you wrong? Is this in fact a principled stand of yours and you will not only be opposing the changes to Parliamentary boundaries but tabling legislation to ban women from the vote and certain religions from public office?

Yours etc.

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16 Comments

  • @Mark Pack

    Ha, nicely put.

  • Colin Green 29th Sep '10 - 1:46pm

    Sometimes, like this, tongue in cheek works very nicely.

  • A bit facetious. DD does have a point. AV is not about reforming the voting system, it is a devious device by Cameron and his gang to do down the Liberal Democrats and entrench their own party’s position, while selling it as a step towards genuine PR (ie, STV in multi-member constituencies).

    AV would have the effect of breathing life back into the Labour Party in parts of the country where we have already eliminated it through tactical voting, undoing decades of hard work.

    Take, for exmple, Salisbury, where the Liberal Democrats scored a good second place in May and Labour was squeezed. In Salisbury, Labour has a strong core vote based on two council estates. Under AV, it is conceivable that Labour could come second on first preferences. Labour could never win, but it could prevent a party capable of winning soft Tory and centrist votes, getting through to the second count. This could happen in dozens of seats up and down the country (it would have happened in Bath and Yeovil, to name but two). So I don’t think David Cameron minds too much that Nick Clegg and his followers have bitten the cheese in the AV trap.

  • Dave Page,

    Would Shirley Williams have won Crosby under AV? The reason I ask is because the Liberals had been a distant third in 1979. Having FPTP enabled the Liberal/SDP Alliance to persuade very many Labour voters that although there were more Labour supporters than Liberals in Crosby, the Alliance could reach parts of the electorate that Labour could not, and, with Labour support, oust the Tories. AV renders that kind of campaigning impossibe, and is why David Cameron will not be too unhappy to see it implemented.

    Look at the results of the 1966 General Election. Look at all those rural constituencies where Labour got 35% plus, but failed to win. These are the very seats that the Liberals Democrats now either hold or are in a reasonable second place.

    Tactical voting is not always about the Liberal Democrats being in second place. It is as often a case of Labour being in second place but the Liberal Democrats being more attractive to those voters who have to desert the Tories for a non-Tory to win.

  • On the subject of boundary changes and constitutional history. Perhaps a useful counter to Labour charges of gerrymandering is to quote from those they once regarded as their illustrious forebears: the Chartists. In the People’s Charter of 1838 demand No.5 stated, ‘Equal Constituencies, securing the same amount of representation for the same number of electors, instead of allowing small constituencies to swamp the votes of large ones’. If the differences in constituencies sizes are not as great as they once were the principle surely remains the same?

  • James Graham,

    No, it is not narrow party interest. AV is a lottery that reduces the ability of the electorate to defeat candidates belonging to the dominant party, in the way that I have described. Do you really think that David Cameron would allow even the possibility of a system that did not do this? Obvioulsy, if I am to persuade Liberal Democrats, I have to explain why this system is bad for the party.

    A better system for the voter is actual PR (ie, STV in multi-member constituencies, which I support), not AV.

    OK, David Davis’ point was a silly one, but there are perfectly valid objections to AV, and I think the party is overlooking them.

    I am asking Liberal Democrats to think hard, not just assumedthat AV is better than FPTP because it has a superficially proportional element.

  • David22,

    The Chartists were campaigning against a limited franchise and a public ballot that is hardly comparable to the present situation. I doubt if the Chartists would be impressed by proposals to remove the right of appeal and oust the jurisdiction of the courts from boundary reviews.

    Incidentally, the party stresses the importance of MPs having a close relationship with their constituents and doing shedloads of casework (eg, Duncan Hames at that fringe meeting). Yet, in the same breath, our leaders are giving support to a fundamentally elitist proposal to reduce the number of MPs!

  • Sesenco

    I was making a very limited point about Demand No. 5., which indicates a basic principle that stood alongside other demands for widening the franchise and changing the political structures. However, you are right, like most calls to history they rarely stand up to much scrutiny. Witness Ed Balls’ idiotic comparison of the Post war debt situation to the current deficit. I would agree with you that the process of boundary changes should be scrutinised closely and challenged where necessary. However, the general point would seem to be as democrats, of whatever party, we should try and ensure a level playing field and that each vote has equal weight. The boundaries used to favour the Tories, now it favours Labour. Surely it should favour no one? The exact number of MPs is also one for greater debate, but is the current number sacred? Or do we need even more MPs so they are less elitist? I’m not entirely convinced on these points myself. Maybe after the spending review the constitutional matters can get a wider debate.

  • @Sesenco

    STV and other more proportional forms of voting weren’t being offered by either Labour or Conservatives, so why even bother to talk about them? We might want them, but wanting something that isn’t being offered is pretty pointless.

    It was AV or FPTP. Most projections of results from AV give the Lib Dems at least some extra seats compared to the gross injustice of FPTP.

  • Never mind banning women from voting, what about all those men who didn’t qualify to vote until 1918, or even the ones who didn’t qualify under property rules during most of the 19th century? I demand consistency from David Davis. Surely if we dig deep enough into ancient constitutional rules we can find one that would ban him himself from voting?

  • “Would Shirley Williams have won Crosby under AV? The reason I ask is because the Liberals had been a distant third in 1979. Having FPTP enabled the Liberal/SDP Alliance to persuade very many Labour voters that although there were more Labour supporters than Liberals in Crosby, the Alliance could reach parts of the electorate that Labour could not, and, with Labour support, oust the Tories. AV renders that kind of campaigning impossibe, and is why David Cameron will not be too unhappy to see it implemented.”

    But that just doesn’t make sense. The same argument. Labour can’t win here, holds under AV or FPTP.
    In fact AV makes it a lot easier for Labour people as they can vote Labour and transfer to the lib dems.

    In a seat with a base Con 40% Lab 30% Lib Dem 20%, Others 10%, Fully two thirsds of Labour voters will switch to Lib Dem as they realise the Lib Dem have more chance of beating the Tories under FPTP, but under AV, all Labour voters would stick with Labour and the Lib Dem transferes being evenly split will elect a Tory. More likely, under AV, just one sixth of the Labour supporters have to switch to the Lib Dems for the Lib Dems to take secodn place and benefit from transfers from the other 5/6 of Labour voters.

    H’mmm – which is more likely, 4/6 of Labour voters voting tacticlaly or 1/6 ?

    To be frank, the “tactical vote” argument is much over done. It is more usually the complete collapse of the party in an area rather than tactical vote considerations that make a difference.

  • Robert C,

    “STV and other more proportional forms of voting weren’t being offered by either Labour or Conservatives, so why even bother to talk about them?”

    Eh? We mustn’t talk about our own policies?

    “Most projections of results from AV give the Lib Dems at least some extra seats compared to the gross injustice of FPTP.”

    What are these “most projections”? I suspect they may be mechanical number-crunching exercises that do not take into account the factors to which I have alluded in my post.

    Mouse wrote,

    “In fact AV makes it a lot easier for Labour people as they can vote Labour and transfer to the lib dems.”

    But they have to gamble. Iff too many give their first preferences to Labour then the Liberal Democrats are eliminated and the Tories win – even if all the Labour to Lib Dem second preferences added on to the Lib Dem vote beats the Tory. Remember Lionel Jospin and Jean Marie Le Pen?

    Is the electorate not going to feel bemused when asked to vote in a referendum on a tweak to the electoral system that many will see as nothing more than a crumb tossed by Cameron to Nick Clegg to help him persuade his membership of the worth of the Coalition? Instead of pushing for ersatz PR, Clegg and his team should have been holding the line on the deficit and the NHS.

  • I think there may be much confusion for voters under AV. Will it be explained properly that in fact you do not have to put ALL the candidates in order of preference. Eg. Diane Abbot did not. For example I personally would not put a Tory or Labour candidate and (because of Nick Clegg et al) Lib Dem as I would not want to enable them to have a chance of being elected. There is a danger of extreme parties being elected under this system, for instance if BNP were put in as a protest vote. How could this be prevented? What if they managed to get a seat(s)? No mention is made of the inherent dangers.
    No longer know who to vote for, probably Green.

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