Wednesday, 28 July 2010

AV - It's a political bubble thing

Despite the fairly significant political ruckus over the Alternative Vote referendum, I can't really generate much in the way of personal excitement over it, nor I would have thought would many members of the public, as opposed to those inside the political bubble.

After all, the idea first really came to prominence in the fag end period of the Brown government, and at that time smacked of a desperate attempt to cling to power, perhaps as a way of currying Lib Dem support in a hung parliament.

Of course, now AV is being used as a sop towards the Lib Dems, but it's Cameron's Conservatives rather than Brown's Labour that's using it to help prop up a coalition.

Thus it's arguably born of opportunism rather than idealism, and of course neither Labour nor the Conservatives wanted anything too fundamentally different from First Past The Post, hence the limited change that AV is likely to represent but, as a corollary, since the Lib Dems want anything but FPTP then from their perspective AV is better than nothing.

Hence Lib Dem MP Jo Swinson's support for AV on last night's Newsnicht, but the limited rationale she proffered wasn't particularly appealing. Of course, that was merely that adopting AV would mean the successful candidate would have the support of 50% of the electorate, but this is largely contrived - would the elected MP have the real support of any more voters than before? Not really - the main difference is that their second and subsequent preferences would become know and these would be employed to contrive an overall majority, so to speak. But fundamentally the primary preference of voters is unlikely to change much.

But the current furore seems to be over the clash of dates with other elections, and one Tory MP on last night's programme perhaps inadvertently demonstrated the public's lack of enthusiasm for an AV referendum. Eleanor Laing said that minor local elections in England would produce a turnout of less than 30%, while Holyrood elections would produce well over 50%, thus those voting in an AV referendum would not be equally balanced throughout the country, which matters in view of its importance and would call the result into question.

Hence she seems to be saying that the public would not consider it important at all, thus the main driver for turnout would the be local elections in England and those for the devolved administrations elsewhere. So what would be the turnout in the areas of England where the AV referendum would be the only vote on the table? The mind boggles.

Therefore those trying to make political capital out of the AV vote and its timing should perhaps be careful that it doesn't cost them voters' support rather than gaining it.

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