There were two news stories yesterday that were absolutely vital to the future of our country. Both granted the Lib Dems the opportunity to make considerable political capital at Labour's expense. And it appears both opportunities have yet to be seized. I shall come to Gordon Brown's dogmatic, blinkered position on drug policy later. I do go on about drug policy a bit so felt I should first raise the Labour party's inner turmoil on the AV referendum (as highlighted by Michael Crick http://tinyurl.com/ye3a8oq).
The Liberal Democrats have remained stubbornly silent on this issue for many months now despite the fact that we are the most passionate supporters of electoral reform. Below is a letter I wrote to Chris Huhne on the subject in September. The phrase "We want democracy now! Labour won't give it to you, the Tories never will!" can still be employed in pressuring Labour to go through with their plans.
"28th September 2009
Dear Mr. Huhne.
I spoke to you briefly at the Vote for Change electoral reform rally last Sunday lunchtime on the subject of a concurrent referendum (for immediate application) on the alternative vote electoral system. I would now like to lay out in greater detail why I believe the Liberal Democrats should pursue this possibility.
“We want democracy now. Labour won't give it to you. The Conservatives never will.”
It's a fine soundbite, and one I believe we should employ. STV is not on the table. AV is. It is a vast improvement on our current system and we should give it our whole-hearted support. Even if there is only a very minimal chance of an immediately applied concurrent referendum being technically or legally achievable, we should definitely push for it for the political reasons I shall now lay out.
An end to tactical voting.
How could constituents not support a system that allows them to vote for who they want to win rather than compromise and support the more acceptable of the two front-runners? Gone will be the days when people only vote for us when they think we can win. For this reason our vote share should rise significantly.
Increased engagement in politics.
This proposal should increase engagement in politics, as people seek to learn more about the different parties that would make up their list order, rather than just vote for the party they have always backed. I believe anything that increases the chances of people finding out what the liberal democrats stand for should also increase our vote share.
Putting Labour on the back foot
Labour have been umming and ahing on this issue for months now. Some polls suggest more people would vote for them if they put forward an electoral reform referendum. If we get in there first saying “put up or shut up”, then we can be seen as the party taking the initiative on the issue. If they chicken out, fearing massive losses under an AV system applied to this coming election, we can gain considerable political capital from this. If they plump for an AV referendum at the next election, but which can only be applied to subsequent elections, we can say that we demanded democracy now and the Labour party abandoned their principles for political gain.
If we do manage to achieve the concurrent, immediately applied referendum, we can take all the credit for the idea, achieve a massive increase in seats, hopefully prevent a tory majority, be seen to be crediting the electorate with the intelligence to cope with a rapid change in electoral system, and can use AV as a stepping stone to STV if we so wish. I personally think we are more likely to achieve power on our own under AV than under STV, but am happy to listen to other views on the matter.
In my opinion there would be very little damage to our chances of taking labour target seats. While Labour might get a small boost from promoting a referendum, I believe this effect would be massively swamped by the support we would gain for the reasons I have presented above. There would also be little need to campaign “alongside” labour for the AV system. A simple consideration of the fact that people only marking one preference risk being disenfranchised if AV is favoured, should persuade them to support AV and vote using the system. Given the choice of voting for who they genuinely would like to win and voting tactically for a less preferable candidate, they would be massively foolish not to support reform.
I beg you to take this proposal seriously. I am terrified of what another tory government will do to our country and am deeply concerned about the possibility of Scottish independence becoming a reality if the tories win power.
I truly believe this is one of the rare times in politics when you are presented with a win-win-win situation. I read a poll today that had the Liberal Democrats and Labour neck and neck on 23%. Upon inputting the poll numbers into UK Polling Report's Swing Calculator I found this result projected to produce 200 Labour seats and only 70 Liberal Democrat seats at the next election. We must act to prevent such laughably undemocratic projections becoming reality. Despite our political position being far from clearly central between the other two parties anymore, it is still fairly clear that supporters of Labour and the Conservatives will back the Liberal Democrats against the other main party at least 6 times more often than they would back Labour or the Tories against the Lib Dems http://populuslimited.com/uploads/download_pdf-130909-The-Times-The-Times-Poll---September.pdf (see pages 8&9). The Liberal Democrats would gather honest, non-tactical votes; votes from people newly aware of our policies; and the vast majority of second preferences from the other main parties under AV. The party should be pulling out all the stops to make it happen as soon as possible.
For those of you about to argue "But AV can be less proportional". AV is only less proportional because that is the way the voters wish it. It reflects the nuances of public opinion rather than forcing people to take sides. If 45% of people in a constituency want a Tory MP, they would not get one under AV if 51% of the voters wanted someone else and voted accordingly. That is good democracy. We'd also get strong governments and retain the constituency link. Some people have strong views on whether these are good things. I take the view that AV is on offer, and it's a hell of a lot better than FPTP.
A new blog post for the Gordon Brown drugs position I think.