Opinion: Cameron is wrong on AV and dog-tired governments

Cameron launched a paternalistic attack on potential Yes to AV Voters in The Evening Standard this week. I would have commented earlier but I was incredulous that such arguments could be put across to persuade people against voting for AV in the forthcoming referendum.

The strongest reason Cameron dictated was that FPTP allowed the public to kick out “dog-tired” governments. The irony therein is that the Coalition has created fixed term parliaments.

As a result, a “dog-tired” government can only be removed with a motion of no confidence outside of this period. The last Motion of No Confidence was in 1979 when James Callaghan and Winter of Discontent occured. Or, two years before I was born. Not exactly recent.

This particular example was 51:50 and not the two thirds majority required by the new bill.

Therefore not only was the last dog-tired government over three decades ago, and before I was born, but it would not “do the job” Cameron maintains is an asset of FPTP in current times!

Even the Motion of No Confidence that destabilised Ramsey Macdonald’s government in 1924 was insufficient to meet this criteria.

Quite simply, the concept that FPTP can throw out inefficient governments does not stand up to scrutiny when one considers no motion of confidence in the last two centuries was able to do so.

Further to this, Cameron also asserts that FPTP is “clear, simple and decisive”. The No Camp are threatening all sorts of complexities in AV. As fellow blogger Politico Maniac puts it, “find a way to explain AV so that it’s so simple even children understand.

And I would argue that focusing the mind of the voter on the range of candidates is just what the UK needs to detract from extremism, blanket voting and tactical voting.

Therefore, rather than destabilising governments with “second rate democracy”, AV actually presents a rational transformation to the voting system that is not only simple and democratic, but also more democratic than the current system.

Perhaps what annoyed me the most, along with Cameron’s lack of facts to support his assertions, is that the No camp is maintaining negative campaigning to sway the voters. I have seen very little positive demonstrations of the First Past the Post System, which would be a stronger argument to persuade the voters in the next few weeks.

I think it is the responsibility of cross party supporters of AV to ensure myths and aggressive campaigning does not turn this referendum into a mud throwing competition, and appeals to the rational and democracy conscious voter.

Kelly-Marie Blundell is Vice Chair of Ashford Liberal Democrats and Executive Member for South East Region Liberal Democrats, and she blogs at disconcertediscursives.blogspot.com

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7 Comments

  • Fixed term parliaments: maybe I’m missing something obvious but – even with this dubious two-thirds clause – how is a government that has lost its majority supposed to carry on if it can’t pass any of its legislation, or even a budget?

    And isn’t any government that gets in and immediately removes the right to remove it by a simple majority vote of the HoC acting outside the spirit of the constitution?

    You are right about Cameron and AV though. Another falsehood being frequently peddled is that most countries use FPTP. This is just not true – most countries use some form of list PR. FPTP is common only in commonwealth countries – it is used in such beacons of democracy as Zimbabwe.

  • What’s most astonishing about Cameron’s ‘tired government’ argument is the example he was using. He praised FPTP for throwing out the tired Major government in 1997, somehow implying that under AV, this might not have happened. In fact, 1997 is one of the major reasons for Tories to fear AV, since studies have shown that AV (as it tends to do) would have emphasised the landslide even further and given the Tories even fewer seats at that point. Cameron must know this, which means that his argument is at best disingenuous, and at worst a blatant lie.

  • Hang on… wasn’t Cameron urging us all to revisit the Jenkins report… ok, what did it say about FPTP’s ability to kick out unpopular governments at election time:

    “A more certain, and in this list final, criticism of FPTP is its tendency to develop long periods of
    systemic bias against one or other of the two main parties. These periods of bias (apart from that
    against a widely‐spread third party) are not necessarily permanent but while they last they are very
    difficult if not impossible to correct. They are in this respect rather like a little ice age or period of
    global warming.”

    Not too glowing a report, I’d have thought Cameron might have noticed this comment when he was digging for dirt on AV in the same report…

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