Here’s a counter intuitive thought for you – if we end up with an Alternative Voting system at some point in the next, say, ten years, then the person most responsible for it could well be the current Prime Minister, David Cameron.
Why? Police and Crime Commisioner elections.
A little discussed aspect of the upcoming Police Commissioner elections due to take place in November is the fact that the voting system used will be what is known as the Supplementary Vote (SV), a form of preferential voting similar to the Alternate Vote (AV), which we recently had a referendum on in which it was soundly beaten as an alternative (ho ho) to our current First Past The Post (FPTP) system.
One of the main arguments people used against AV, where you rank the candidates in order of preference, was that it would be too confusing for people to understand. As a supporter of AV I always felt this was a particularly weak argument, given the prevalence of preferential voting in many aspects of life not to mention the numerous countries that use more complex methods of voting than AV and get along fine.
Which is why the Police Commissioner elections will be so interesting. It has been a long standing government policy that elections for directly held positions, such as mayors or police commissioners are held with the SV system.
I take this as a tacit acknowledgement of the limitations of FPTP in creating a broad enough coalition of support for a candidate, particularly important when relating to direct mandates, which is why most political parties use some form of preferential voting for their own leadership elections.
It’s also why many people support AV, as they believe it’s right that your local MP should also work for a broad coalition of support, as should a government.
But I digress.
Since the creation of the Mayor of London, London has been used to different forms of voting, and there seems to be few complaints or suggestions that the voting system is to complex for Londoners, who also use a proportional system of sorts (I think) for the London Assembly.
However, because it’s mostly only London who have experience of this the ‘complexity’ argument still held sway in the AV debate, but this will change in November with the Police Commissioner elections when the entire country will gain experience using preferential voting, thereby weakening, indeed taking out that entire argument.
The main problem is that the anticipated turnout of the election is expected to be appallingly low and at a Police Commissioner meeting we set up in our ward we heard that it is expected to be less than 20%.
Therefore while everyone will have the opportunity to vote using the SV system, sadly it looks like fewer than one in five people will do.
Nonetheless, the point I am making is that as society becomes more normalised to using different voting systems one of the central arguments in favour of FPTP will become weaker. How long that will take though, is another thing altogether. Ironically the process would have been speeded up again if people have voted in favour of Mayoral elections, another policy supported by David Cameron.
On top of that, it seems well possible that the result of the next election will bring another coalition government, involving Labour or the Conservatives (Though I should stress I believe it’s there for either party to win outright!).
Another strand of the argument against AV was that it would bring permanent coalition, with the Lib Dems in government for eternity while Labour and the Tories switch it between them.
Now we are halfway through a coalition brought about by FPTP and another coalition under the same system would destroy another strand of the argument against AV.
Indeed, if we end up with ten years of coalition, the debate about whether we should stick with FPTP will probably be raised again given its lack of proportionality, and if two of the central arguments in favour of FPTP and against AV are neutralised, we could well have another referendum on AV that is entirely winnable (especially without Nick Clegg’s presence).
Therefore if we ended up with AV one of the main reasons could be that the general public have gotten used to non-FPTP voting because of the Police Commissioner elections (and where relevant Mayoral elections), and if that is the case then the man who would perhaps be most responsible is the man who insisted on introducing the role of the Police and Crime Commissioner.
That man is also the man who campaigned so vigorously against AV, David Cameron.