The poor nature of the debate about AV – and especially the focus on personalities rather than the issues – has obscured the fact there are serious discussions to be had about our voting system, rather than just slap-stick jousting.
So I was immensely pleased to get this reaction from the Leader of the Tory group on Swansea Council:
Dear Professor Talbot
My name is René Kinzett, a Conservative Councillor (Leader of my Group on Swansea Council) and a Tory Yes to AV campaigner (yes, there are actually quite a few of us!). I read with huge interest your article for Whitehall Watch in favour of AV and its a great shame that such clear and conscice arguments have been missing during the majority of the debate in the mass media.
However, those of use who want to debate AV properly and expose the huge deficiencies of FPTP (which of course is, as you outline, a totally misleading label) still think there is time to persuade the UK electorate to give our antiquated electoral system the reform it desperately needs. I’ve written a short piece for the Tory Reform Group blog and for other Conservative-leaning blogs, herewith latest attached in word document.
If you can suggest any other publications that might take a Tory Yes perspective article or two over the next week, I would be pleased to know as there are a few of us who would be able to put copy together very quickly (former Welsh MP Keith Best, for example).
With all best wishes
And here is René’s statement:
In looking for some inspiration in terms of reforming our Constitution I looked no further than the father of modern Conservatism, Benjamin Disraeli. He sought to define his vision for a Party which balanced the demands for reform with the pragmatism and aversion to change which can often characterise both Conservatives and the British people:
I am a Conservative to preserve all that is good in our constitution, a Radical to remove all that is bad. I seek to preserve property and to respect order, and I equally decry the appeal to the passions of the many or the prejudices of the few.
It is the very fact that FPTP gives a minority of people the biggest say in who represents each of us in Parliament which makes our current system such a worthy candidate for removal from our Constitution.
That is not to say that “any reform is better than no reform” and I do want to engage in a sensible and informed debate about any new system. However, those who argue against reform must do more than attack AV, they must tell us why FPTP is a system worthy of keeping.
One of the missing elements of this referendum campaign has been a proper examination of what FPTP actually is! As a friend of mine on Twitter put it in under 140 characters:
Majority governments elected on a minority of the vote, and a majority of MPs elected by a minority of constituents.
Or, as Winston Churchill put is so more poetically in 1911:
The present system has clearly broken down. The results produced are not fair to any party, nor to any section of the community. In many cases they do not secure majority representation, nor do they secure an intelligent representation of minorities. All they secure is fluke representation, freak representation, capricious representation.
In a world where are far less partisan than in the past, FPTP is simply not fit for purpose. The current system is based on scenario where there are only two competing parties or where as in 1955, the Tories and Labour polled over 96% between them. Last year, the Conservative Party got the largest single share of the vote with little more than 36% approval, Labour managing only 29%, just 6% ahead of the Liberal Democrats.
Whilst some will argue “NO” on the grounds of partisan advantage, given current opinion polling, YouGov says that Harlow, Aberconwy, Brigg and Goole, Bristol Northwest, Crewe and Nantwich, Dudley South, Ilford North, Peterborough, Ribble South and Stourbridge are seats that the Tories might lose to Labour under FPTP, but could save under AV.
AV (or similar systems) is currently used to elect the Chairs of Select Committees in the House of Commons, as well as for the Leadership of the Conservative Party. We also use preferential voting systems when selecting our Parliamentary Candidates, even trusting the average voter in open primaries!
We know that AV is actually very easy to understand and use. We know its advantages when trying to elect people who can command majority support across an electorate. Why can’t we then comprehend the advantage in using AV when voting for our MPs?