I support PR. There, I said it. In fact, I said it time and again throughout the election campaign and I haven’t changed my mind. What I have never been very keen on (and indeed made clear during the campaign) is AV. There are two reasons for this:
1) AV is not PR – it doesn’t produce results which are proportional to the choices of the electorate and therefore isn’t much of an improvement on FPTP. There is a common assumption among AV supporters that somehow AV delivers MPs with at least half of the electorate’s support. This isn’t true, because it wrongly assumes that second or third preferences are equivalent to first choices. As a Labour supporter, I would now put Labour first, Green second and only if pushed very hard, Lib Dems third. If that third choice is counted towards the eventual total of the Lib Dem, does that mean my support was as fulsome as those who chose Lib Dems first? Hardly. But that is a “benefit” that AV claims. What AV can produce, therefore, is a “least worst” candidate and I fail to see how this improves democratic representation.
Our current party system is badly suited to AV because all parties set out their stall in contrast to the others. The nature of the two and a bit party system we have demands that parties look for differences rather than common ground. We don’t have variations on the left and right. This makes preferences much less appropriate here, because in reality, the choices are so few. AV just isn’t appropriate in the UK and of itself, isn’t enough of a change to encourage the formation of smaller parties which would broaden the spectrum.
2) It has become clear that this proposed AV referendum is as far as we are going to go down the path of electoral reform for the foreseeable future. I completely refute the view that this is somehow a stepping stone to PR. The country and our politicians will not support another change in five years time. One election with AV then switch again? Not realistic. Two? Well then you are talking about 10 years before the next change. It’s terribly naive to see AV as the first step along a path to properly proportional voting. What we should be offered is a choice of systems at the same referendum. I hate the patronising implication that people couldn’t understand any more than a single option presented to them at one time.
So, after much consideration, I will not be supporting AV at any referendum. It doesn’t improve significantly on the current system and it rules out proper change for a generation. Clegg and the Lib Dems have been sold a pup. And as an aside, I won’t be told by Lib Dems that I am backing away from an election promise – six million pots calling the kettle black, I’m afraid.