AV now means Alternative Vote and is that funny system that the Cleggeron Coalition is trying to substitute for the present First Past the Post, which has many faults but is, at least, clear and understandable.
Alternative Vote, on the other hand, is completely incomprehensible and, as a recent paper by Policy Exchange shows, not particularly better on the various counts, such as fairness and proportionality that opponents of FPTP have been campaigning for. It is also the funny system that produced that very strange result in Australia not so long ago.
So far this blog has kept out of the discussions (such as they are) apart from the odd snide comment because it seemed completely unimportant how we elect our powerless politicians while they can do nothing but implement EU legislation. However, this evening I attended a discussion of the whole issue with various arguments presented for and against; it occurred to me that it might be a good thing to have some kind of a working constitutional structure albeit one that needs reforming in various ways or restoring to previous versions for when we are rid of the European incubus.
However, the first thing to note about AV is that it is not popular in the world and is not one that anyone in this country wants or has argued for. It was not mentioned in any electoral manifesto, not even that of the Lib-Dims. The idea just suddenly appeared. The Cleggeron Coalition decided that they would push legislation through Parliament, using up badly needed parliamentary time to have a referendum on the AV system. After that, badly needed time and, especially, badly needed money will be wasted on campaigning and the actual referendum. On past experience it might have to be re-run if the result is not quite what the government wants though we don't actually know what this brokeback government does want.
On top of that the referendum, assuming the legislation goes through in time, will be held at the same time as some but not all local elections are held as well as those for the Scottish and Welsh Assemblies. This sort of thing should not happen - referendums should not be mixed up with elections as that makes campaigning and reporting well-nigh impossible. Turn-out is likely to be very patchy because some places will not have any other elections. London is one of them and that is a lot of voters.
So what are the arguments for AV? I listened to them this evening and they are as follows:
1. It is better than FPTP in various unspecified way mainly because FPTP has many faults. (Those faults are undeniably true but there is no evidence whatsoever that AV of all systems will correct them.)
2. Single member constituencies elected by FPTP have been the norm in Britain only since the 1880s, introduced mainly because the newly formed parties found it hard to control their members and electorate any other way. (That is an acceptable argument in general. What we have now is not written in tablets of stone and can be changed. But AV is not necessarily the way we want to change it. Perhaps a return to multiple members or an introduction of real primaries rather than the farce of the Conservative ones might be thought about.)
3. We must move away from FPTP and even though AV is not what we want it is a step forward in the way granting women over 30 suffrage was a step towards equality in voting. (This is complete nonsense. Widening the suffrage to women over 30 after the First World War was a step in a clearly defined direction as is every step in the widening of suffrage from the Second Reform Bill onwards. AV is not a transitional step between FPTP and complete PR but a step into a completely different direction.)
4. We must move away from FPTP and let AV fail so we can move on to what we really want which is proportional representation of some kind as there are many varieties. (Another non sequitur. In the first place, what on earth makes these people think that AV will be considered a failure by those who have a vested interest in keeping it. We lose FPTP and acquire a system nobody wants, nobody likes, which is going to be a complete failure and we shall be stuck with it.)
5. We must move away from FPTP and vote in AV in order to change it eventually to PR. (That's going to play well. Why don't you vote for this so in a few years we can change it all to something completely different that you did not vote for and might not want? I wonder why this sounds so familiar?)
Thus, I remain unconvinced that there are any merits in AV at all. In any case, what does it matter how exactly the chairs are arranged on the deck of the Titanic?