LibLink: Vernon Bogdanor – Change the voting system, change the UK

Vernon Bogdanor, professor of government at the University of Oxford, and David Cameron’s tutor at Brasenose College, looks at the alternative vote referendum in an article in today’s Financial Times, and suggests it could have far-reaching consequences. But first he points out the Alice in Wonderland politics of the referendum:

The Lib Dems, who favour true proportional representation, now back a system that can yield even more disproportional outcomes than first-past-the-post. Labour, the only party to propose a referendum on AV in its manifesto, will oppose the bill providing for it. The Conservatives will oppose change, but in muted fashion, since David Cameron wants to hold his coalition together.

Professor Bogdanor then suggests why Mr Cameron might be quite relaxed about AV being approved: because it would open up the possibility of a ‘coupon’ election without the need for the Lib Dems and Conservatives to agree a formal pact:

AV removes the need for a coupon, or merger. Tories and Lib Dems can put up candidates in every constituency, and ask supporters to give second preferences to their coalition partners. So Mr Cameron may be relaxed if the referendum yields a Yes. Indeed, he would probably rather be dependent upon the Lib Dems than his own right wing, who are, together with Labour, the great losers from the current coalition. Both stand to lose if AV makes Con-Lib coalitions more common.

We should not, he argues, under-estimate the profound, long-term consequences of ending first-past-the-post:

Because next May’s referendum is not offering proportional representation, there is a temptation to believe that voters are being asked to approve a mere technical change in the electoral system. Nothing could be more mistaken. The outcome will have massive political consequences. AV opens the door to a new political world in which coalitions become the norm, and single-party majority government a distant memory. Defeat for AV could quickly end the coalition. But success would bind it together, for a long time to come.

You can read Professor Bogdanor’s article in full here.

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11 Comments

  • Grammar Police 10th Aug '10 - 9:51pm

    For me, Bognador undermines his credentials as a commentator with what he says about the “coupon” election.

    I would be extremely surprised if either Lib Dem or Conservative candidates (or indeed Labour) endorsed another party by saying supporters should give their second preferences to that party. Saying that, I could imagine Labour and Greens agreeing to swap second prefs, which won’t benefit the Greens, apart from as part of a long-term strategy to align themselves as the real socialist party.

  • Grammar Police 11th Aug '10 - 8:00am

    Yes. Which is why I mentioned it. Technically, Sian Berry getting a load of Ken’s second prefs was no use to her at all (especially where the system is supplementary vote, not even AV).

    Darren Johnson said on another forum that basically the Green Party were hoping that some voters got confused and voted Green on the list, thinking this was a second pref.

  • All my life I have supported PR. Until now. Now I can see that an unprincipled party can use the votes it gets and then do exactly the opposite of what it said it would do. Under FPTP you know what you are voting for. I voted lib dem becasue I was against the cuts, against nuclear power and against privitising the NHS. The Lib Dems said they were too and then did exacty the opposite. For many of us the dishonesty of the lib dems has been breathaking and the current hung paliament would be a permanant state. Dont you actually believe in anythng at all????????????

  • Alan, I disagree that you get what you vote for under FPTP. This is the first government in many years to have a majority of the vote as well as the seats. Most people did not vote Labour in 1997, 2001 or 2005, and most people did not vote Conservative in 1979, 1983, 1987 or 1992, but both parties were returned with majorities (often huge majorities). I believe, and you may disagree, that it is better for parties to compromise and build consensus. If the public do not like the compromise then they will vote differently next time and, under a PR system, they will have their votes properly reflected. No electoral system is perfect, but I believe that STV is the best we can get.

  • Grammar Police 11th Aug '10 - 12:37pm

    Yeah, whatever Alan. Your argument doesn’t even make sense within its own bizarre logic. You’re not going to support PR because FPTP delivered up a result you don’t like?

  • Anthony Aloysius St 11th Aug '10 - 1:30pm

    “Yeah, whatever Alan. Your argument doesn’t even make sense within its own bizarre logic. You’re not going to support PR because FPTP delivered up a result you don’t like?”

    Obviously the point is that AV would make a hung parliament more likely, and would therefore make the kind of thing we’ve seen over the last few months more common.

    It’s really not so hard to grasp. After all, why else would the Lib Dems be supporting AV?

  • I do not want a repeat of this unfair and distressing situation where there is going to be a misuse of information to ‘get’ the poor, where ministers are vying to see who can cut the most. I do not think that I am alone. I do not want to see gerrymandering tied up with av. I know a lot of other voters think this.

  • Peter Venables 11th Aug '10 - 3:14pm

    I could only support AV if the post election negotiations were more open to the public.
    Clegg has left a bad smell in the wake of the election, not telling the public about his change of heart regarding cuts, and his AV referendum bluff.

    If democracy means anything, it certainly isn’t a group of men playing mindgames in an office, out of sight of the electorate.

  • Bit disillusioned 11th Aug '10 - 3:15pm

    I’ve been giving some thought to how I would vote in an AV election, and find myself thinking of a tactical first pref to a minor party (the Greens? Revolutionary Socialists?), followed by my ‘real’ vote for the Lib Dems, of which I ‘ve been a member for 27 years. I live in a Tory seat with Lib Dems 2nd, Labour a poor third.

  • a system that can yield even more disproportional outcomes than first-past-the-post.

    I’ve never understood why this gets brought up as an important “fact” all the time. Either system can yield an outcome more disproportional than the other with respect to first choice votes. (i.e. measuring by the standards of FPTP). What “proportionality” means when one assumes that second choices are important is hard to define, though, unless you’re explicit about the relative weight you assign to each choice. But I don’t think anyone is arguing pro-AV on a proportionality bandwagon – it’s more about preventing extremist parties succeeding when votes for moderates are split; preventing negative campaigning; ensuring winners have the support of a majority of their constituents and decreasing the incentive for tactical voting.

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