Wednesday, 3 February 2010

Brown's AV Proposals Hand Edinburgh South to Lib Dems - Curtice

Last night Eric Joyce asked on Twitter, "AV [Alternative Vote] Voting. Any thoughts?" so I had a little debate with him about how it was change not reform etc. How it still gave too much power to the parties and not enough to the people. he went strangely silent on me when I asked. "Why now? It was discussed pre-1997 by the Blair-Ashdown negotiations. Why wait 13 years?".

I take it Eric's silence adds strength to the argument that Gordon Brown is proposing this now as a political expedient not out of any real commitment. Indeed in this morning's Scotsman John Curtice points out that the Lib Dems are everyone's second favourite, so AV would help the Lib Dems, but only he says in seats where are already a strong second like in Edinburgh South. Indeed he thinks AV would deliver us a dozen or so extra seats.

Of course the other issue is who is going to be second favourites elsewhere. Curtice says:

"The SNP is unlikely to gain much either. The Nationalists cannot be sure of winning more second preference votes from Conservatives and Liberal Democrats than Labour.

"But who do Liberal Democrat and SNP voters prefer more – Conservative or Labour? The answer is clear – Labour. In the ICM poll, 45 per cent of Liberal Democrat supporters said Labour was their second choice, only 28 per cent the Conservatives. Only a handful of SNP supporters in the 2007 local elections gave any support to a Tory candidate.

"So where Labour lie a close second to the Conservatives, the new system could enable them to capture the seat. But the Conservatives are unlikely to gain where they are close to Labour – while of the two parties they are also more likely to be leapfrogged by a local Liberal Democrat."

It is a fault with a majority system such as AV which is not proportional to the voting intentions of the electorate but merely a reallocation of the votes to the next best option.

Andrew Burns the Labour leader on Edinburgh City Council self deprecates with his blog title Really Bad Blog, but this morning I want to hold him up as a Labour elected representative who speaks sense.

He says seeing as the use of Alternative Vote (AV) for Westminster Elections have now been tabled as an amendment to the Constitutional Reform and Governance Bill, he says it is:

"Pretty straightforward to adjust it from a majoritarian to a proportional system ... "

He then outlines almost the wording (bar the use of 2 member constituencies and a few other pieces) that I think a Lib Dem MP should be tabling replacing AV with a Single Transferable Vote System(STV).

STV also gives more power to the people, last night Eric Joyce was bemoaning the fact that 8 MSPs had some say over the voters of Falkirk that he represents. He was also saying that he liked to let the people have their personal say over his re-election. Thing is the bulk of that say is down to the local party, there only is one Labour candidate that the people of Falkirk have to vote for under the AV proposals.

Say if under STV Falkirk and say Livingston and Linlithgow were returning 3 MPs there may well be 2 or 3 Labour candidates for the people to choice from. It would combine the aspect of the people deciding which Labour candidate was their preferred option, plus also decide between the various candidates. This may not be to Eric's liking for his own personal reasons* but suits people like Iain Dale who advocate open primaries. It gives a certain amount of power to the people. It makes peoples votes fairer and is proportional rather than a shifting of the votes.

My current choice of words to explain Brown's position is a misquote of Neil Armstrong. AV is one small step which suits Labour best, where is the giant leap for fairness to the electorate?

In conclusion Curtice sums up Brown's long road to his Damascus moment to change the voting system like this:

"Under current circumstances at least, the attractions of the Alternative Vote for Labour are clear. Its adoption would make it even more difficult for the Conservatives to win a majority, only make it a little easier for the Liberal Democrats to secure extra seats, while Labour's chances of winning a majority might even be enhanced.

"Not so much "new" politics as an old-fashioned political fix."

Brown is fiddling but at least Andrew Burns is man enough to spot the score.

PS On a point of order made by Caron on twitter of course we don't need AV to get Fred Mackintosh as the MP for Edinburgh South. He is more than capable of overhauling that 405 vote margin over Nigel Griffiths Candidate X under first past the post.

Read also: Alistair Carmichael MP on why you should beware of dying Governments bearing gifts. Plus Mark Thompson estute as ever on whether AV is even worth campaigning for.

*Most expensive MP in the House of Commons.

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