AV referendum: for the sake of England, don’t vote!

Do you think the First Past the Post voting system used for electing UK MPs should be changed to the Alternative Vote? Do you even care?

Firstly, should anyone who supports the idea of an English parliament give a monkeys about the voting system used to elect the UK parliament? On one level, no: the fact that this AV referendum is being held on the same day as the elections for the Scottish parliament, and Welsh and Northern Irish assemblies, but that the English have never been consulted about a parliament of their own; and the fact that we’re being offered only the disproportional AV system, whereas those very devolved elections use a different, proportional system, is a downright insult. So not only is there no representation for England as a nation on offer, but there is to be no proportional representation for England even within the UK parliament. So I know where I’d tell them to stick their AV.

On the other hand, a ‘better’ electoral system for electing English MPs would surely be a gain for the nation even while we’re being governed by an unrepresentative UK executive and parliament. Does AV constitute such a gain? Well, in my view, AV is marginally – very marginally – better than FPTP. It does ensure that parliamentary candidates have to secure the explicit support of a larger proportion of their local electorate in order to win – though it doesn’t guarantee that MPs must obtain the support of a majority of voters: that depends on how many voters don’t express a preference for either / any of the candidates remaining after the less popular candidates have been eliminated.

However, in reality, this greater share of the vote MPs have to win, which includes the second and subsequent preferences of voters whose first-choice candidates have been unsuccessful, already exists in latent form under the FPTP system. The only difference that AV makes is that it allows voters to explicitly express that support with their preference votes, so that – for example – a winning plurality of, say, 40% is turned into a winning ‘majority’ of 52%. That extra 12% of voters who are broadly content for a candidate to win on 40% of the vote are still there under FPTP; so AV in a sense just legitimises what happens under FPTP: the election to parliament of MPs who fail to be the first choice of a majority of voters.

AV is, therefore, mainly a means to secure buy-in to an unfair system that has ill-served England. That’s what FPTP has been: over the past few decades, it’s given us Tory and Labour governments that have never commanded the support of a majority of English men and women. It gave us the divisive, confrontational and egomaniacal Thatcher regime; and it was responsible for Blair’s New Labour, with its legacy of asymmetric devolution, British-establishment Anglophobia, public-spending discrimination against England, and the overseas follies of Iraq and Afghanistan, with so many brave young English people exploited as cannon fodder in unwinnable, unjustifiable wars.

FPTP has failed England. AV is only a very slightly mitigated version of FPTP. Both will lead to more disproportional, unrepresentative UK parliaments that will continue to ignore not only the just demands for an English parliament but England’s very existence. Under the present UK political settlement, England as such is completely discounted and passed over in silence. The pro-AV campaign says that, under AV, your vote really counts. But England will still count for nothing, whether we have AV or FPTP.

So make your vote really count this Thursday in the AV referendum by greeting it with the silent contempt with which the political establishment treats England. England’s voice is not being consulted; so respond with sullen, stern silence in your turn. Don’t vote for a system – the UK parliament itself – that disenfranchises you. And let the result – whether a win for AV or FPTP – be rendered as meaningless as it really is through a derisory turn-out across England.

England will have its say one day in a meaningful referendum: on an English parliament. And I bet neither AV nor FPTP will be on offer as the voting system for a parliament that truly represents the English people.


9 Responses

  1. Very interesting and rational argument, I certainly will give it careful consideration when deliberating my choice.

    It was also a highly informative and compelling overture so please keep it up for England’s sake

    Well done & very astute.


  2. So if nobody was to vote would tht mean FPTP remained or would there be a backdoor entry for the AV – All the money being spent on this could be used for something else the FPTP has done a job for many years and i can not see much change except maybe some smaller parties getting a few seats

    • If AV loses, there’s no way back for that system. If the turn-out is really really low, it’s almost irrelevant how people vote: neither result will have any credibility or moral mandate. I’m hoping for a humiliatingly low turn-out in England, which is pretty much on the cards in any case. That’ll tell the politicians they can’t fob us off with this phoney reform.

  3. This writer’s England is one of disempowerment.

  4. I intend to use my voting paper to register my disgust at the UK Parliaments failure of England.
    It will bear the words;

    English Parliament Now!

  5. I’m in favour of having a devolved English Parliament. Previously I thought that it would be enough to have English Grand Committees in both Houses of Parliament, but some years ago I changed my mind and decided that it would have to be a separate English Parliament.

    But realistically I have little hope of seeing that happen. Very little hope if we stick with FPTP in this referendum, and only slightly more hope if we switch to AV.

    It would need one or more new political parties to gradually build up membership and strength to take more and more votes away from the main political parties until they started to change their tune, with at least the possibility that eventually one of them would commit to the establishment of an English Parliament AND would then get into government and be in a position to implement it AND would then keep its manifesto pledge.

    I shall vote in the referendum, and I shall vote for AV because I think it would be a small but significant help to newer and smaller parties in general, and would give a slightly better chance of achieving changes such as this.

    If people don’t vote then the establishment will take it that they’re not interested in political change, and that will be not just this proposed change to the electoral system but political change in general.

    If people do vote but vote against the change to AV then the establishment will take it that they’re happy with the present FPTP system, and new and smaller parties trying to make progress will continue to face a struggle which is so uphill that it’s almost vertical.

    And believe me, I know about that long and almost vertical uphill struggle from personal experience, and a change which had made the climb even slightly easier would have been very welcome.

    • Denis, I respect your point of view and understand where you’re coming from. It’s a matter of tactics, I guess. Backing AV means extremely long odds on an English parliament, as you yourself concede. By contrast, I think the establishment will be hard put to ignore a miserably low turn-out: lower still in England than the rest of the UK. That could be spun as an endorsement of the status quo only with great difficulty.

      I’m wondering whether one of the hidden agendas isn’t that AV could neutralise the West Lothian Question, in that it will produce results in England that are closer to those across the UK as a whole: more seats for the Lib Dems and Labour, and fewer for the Tories. So if the parliamentary majorities are similar in England and the UK as a whole, no need to do anything about the WLQ. By contrast, a ‘victory’ for FPTP, however discredited by the low turn-out, puts the WLQ back on the agenda. They’ll have to get on with that promised West Lothian Commission, and the Tories will feel emboldened to press for it, as it would be to their benefit, as FPTP gives them an advantage in England (they currently hold an absolute majority of English seats).

      We’ll see, I guess.

  6. […] I take? I’ve already forcefully advocated non-participation in today’s referendum elsewhere on the grounds that it contemptuously ignores England’s claims to self-determination. I […]

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