I’ve just had a very nice chap on the ‘phone asking me if the AV campaign could count on my support in the forthcoming referendum. I told him that would be premature.
AV is attractive, but so is the existing, tried and tested system that has done us fairly well for nearly a century. Prior to that we had a similar system, except that women weren’t allowed to vote. This was probably wrong, but made sense at the time as women haven’t always been as clued up as in modern times (which was definitely wrong). Going back further we’ve had systems where (crudely put) only the best educated in society have had a vote, to various extents.
The idea that democracy is good, and therefore more democracy is better, doesn’t really hold water. Democracy was popularised by the ancient Greeks in Athens, but even back then they could see the problems (Plato’s Republic is an interesting read, and Socrates was a smart guy with a solid handle on it).
The good thing about democracies is that they allow you to boot out a bad government, which is why we must keep them. But do they get you a good government? I’d say, based on the evidence, that the more democratic you get, the worse the worse decisions the government is likely to take.
The AV camp keep pointing to Australia as a working example. If this is the best they can come up with, we’re in big trouble. Just take a look at Australian politics in action and you’ll see what I mean.
Another of their arguments, to quote the Electoral Reform Society, is that it “Penalises extremist parties, who are unlikely to gain many second preference votes.” They don’t back this up with research, so here’s an anecdote about the BNP (argue amongst yourselves as to whether they’re what was being talked about).
In the 2010 elections, talking to voters (especially in the less well-off and looser-tongued areas) the subject on the BNP came up. “They make a lot of sense and I’d vote for them if I thought it would do any good…” was a message I got quite frequently, in spite of the pariah status imparted to the BNP by the media. This was followed by “but I don’t want Gordon Brown to get back in.”
And there’s the rub. The AV camp believes people will vote positively with AV: vote for who they really want. What they don’t realise is that, at present, a lot of people are voting against who they don’t want, more than anything else.
So how will “extremist” parties fair under AV? Pretty well, I suspect. People would have voted for the BNP with their first choice, and against Gordon Brown with their second. The Electoral Reform Society idea that extremists will be disadvantaged needs some justification.
It’s not just me that thinks this, however. Take another minority extremist party, the Greens (they want to do some pretty extreme things with the economy); what do they reckon? Well their conference voted to back AV and they’re actively campaigning for it. If the Electoral Reform Society is correct then surely the Greens would be wiped out. That scenario doesn’t seem to bother them overly.
On the other hand, the sake-up that minority parties could bring might be just what we need as a society. Remember, you don’t need end up with an MP from such a party, but the realistic threat they might get in is bound to influence the policies of the main parties. For example, in the general population there is a majority to bring back hanging (never mind the issues involved with multiculturalism). The educated liberal elite in the main parties are always putting the brakes on the death penalty when the idea comes up, but if AV really does give the people a purer voice, things may get interesting on this any many other issues.