'AV is not Proportional Representation' say Communists

Following on from the Executive Committee's decision to call for a NO vote in the forthcoming AV referendum in May this year, the Political Committee has adopted a policy paper that deals with the problems of the proposal.

The Communist Party position on electoral reform has been unchanged since 1944, when Willie Gallacher submitted the party’s proposals to the Speaker’s conference on the subject  — although it has been questioned and debated during the intervening period.

Gallacher proposed lowering the voting age to 18, fairer constituency boundaries and abolition of special university and business votes. He also put forward multi-member constituencies using the single transferable vote (STV) form of proportional representation, which is the system currently in operation in Ireland.

First past the post (FPTP) is supported by both main parties, although this unanimity has been dented by Ed Miliband’s backing for the alternative vote (AV).

The reason why the big two should opt for FPTP is easy to see. It throws up a majority for the party with the largest minority voting support. For example, the 1997 Labour 'landslide' translated a 43 per cent vote share into 60 per cent of Commons seats.

FPTP discourages a large voting turnout, since many voters see their vote as wasted, given that their constituency is invariably a landslide for one major party or the other.

This has led to a campaigning concentration by major parties on a small proportion of so-called swing seats where a minority of 'floating voters' can affect the result. A side-effect of this jockeying for support from supposed middle-of-the-road floating voters has been a narrowing of political differences between the parties.

It is difficult to see why anyone but a Liberal Democrat would support AV, since it is only that party that would have gained seats via that method over the past three decades.

Strathclyde University politics professor John Curtice has examined voting preferences since 1983, using the one poll that regularly asked participants their first and second preferences.

He concludes that each Parliament would have had about 20 more Liberal Democrat members but on no occasion would this have brought about a hung Parliament — other than the current situation where FPTP achieved the same result.

No wonder Nick Clegg described AV as a 'miserable little compromise' when Gordon Brown offered a referendum on this electoral change.

After all, Clegg's party has traditionally supported PR and AV is not PR. The only thing that can be said for AV is that it provides for winning candidates to have over 50 per cent of the vote via consideration of second preferences, but it would do nothing to affect the phenomenon of parliamentary landslides being won by parties with a minority of the popular vote.

AV on a national basis would tend to concentrate attention on elections as a two-party contest, encouraging the use of the second vote to thwart the less-favoured big-two party rather than vote positively.

It would lessen the chance of independent, left-wing or Green candidates being elected.

If AV is passed in this referendum, the likelihood is that further reform would be put on hold, leaving a disproportional and restrictive system in operation.

If we as socialists and communists accept electoral campaigning as one part of political struggle, we should do everything possible to encourage mass participation.

Given the proliferation of small parties to the left of Labour, largely sparked by disappointment over Labour’s pro-capitalist direction, STV would enable first preferences to be cast to the left and subsequent votes used to keep out the Tories rather than the present tendency of many working class voters to go fishing instead.

There is a growing tendency among working people not to vote. This is partly because of perceived lack of political choice — 'they’re all the same' — and partly because of the well-founded belief that, in most constituencies, 'my vote won’t make any difference'.

Introducing PR, especially STV, would encourage political diversity and greater electoral competition. In short, it would be fairer and thus more democratic.

AV would be a red herring in this process, possibly entrenching the worst aspects of FPTP. That’s why our party’s position is to oppose any introduction of AV.