Democracy, yes! AV, no!

Submitted by Matthew on 20 April, 2011 - 12:00

Many improvements need to be fought for in Britain’s political system, even within the limits of what Marxists call “bourgeois democracy” (parliamentary-type democracy operating within the social and economic domination of the capitalist class).

The government should be selected and accountable to Parliament. At present the prime minister is selected (or can be sacked) by the Queen, and then the prime minister chooses the government, giving himself or herself a large “payroll vote” to control Parliament.

The House of Lords and the monarchy should be abolished.

Parliament should be re-elected every year, not left in office for four or five years so that it is hard to call governments to account for their deeds with any reasonable promptness. Between general elections, it should be possible for a sufficiently large body of opinion in each constituency to “recall” its MP and demand a new poll there.

“First Past the Post” should be replaced by some form of proportional representation.

On top of those improvements in procedure, the building-up of political parties really rooted in and accountable to the organised working-class, and the creation of a mass working-class press to counter the bourgeois media, are vital to make a reality of formal democracy.

The referendum on 5 May offers no scope for progress on any of those fronts. Neither of the AV political camps are putting any of these arguments. AV is not a democratic improvement. In fact, it may be worse than the present system.

No voting system is perfect. First Past The Post has three big problems.

• It grossly underrepresents minorities, especially minorities spread across the country rather than localised. It thus introduces a bias into the electoral system in favour of the currently-dominant parties remaining dominant.

• It corrupts political choice by pushing people into tactical voting, as for example with the large number of Labour supporters in the south-east who tactically vote Lib-Dem.

• It focuses the major parties’ political efforts on a small minority of voters — floating voters in marginal seats — which means, sociologically, on a middle-class and upper-working-class minority.

AV helps none of those problems except the tactical-voting one. The improvement it gives on tactical voting has to be weighed against the new pressure it adds on parties to focus their electoral efforts on haggling for second-preference transfers from other parties.

The general bias of AV is to polarise politics into two large blocs, each bloc clustered round one main party and tied together by agreements to transfer preferences. It makes it even more difficult than FPTP for radical left candidates to win elections, because of the tendency of second-preferences to gravitate towards the centre of politics.

There are other reasons to vote “no” on 5 May. AV means that the Lib Dems “win” — decide the governmental outcome of — the next general election, more or less however we vote. To some extent the referendum is a referendum on the coalition government. A “no” victory will damage the coalition.

In Northern Ireland AV means pressure on parties to polarise into two blocs, tied together by agreements to transfer preferences, which will inevitably be Catholic and Protestant blocs. It adds a further pressure towards bureaucratised sectarianism in politics.

The introduction of AV will probably “gazump” all other proposals for electoral reform for a while, at least until it has been tried out over several general elections.