After the AV (alternative vote) referendum result, what next?

Over on the OurKingdom site, I’ve contributed the following thoughts to their debate on the future for political reform after the AV referendum result:

Not only for years but for decades I’ve heard electoral reformers insist that campaigning for anything other than AV would be a mistake as AV, or a variant thereof, was the most that the Labour Party would stomach for the House of Commons and without Labour support nothing would happen.

After this month’s referendum that strategy certainly looks a failure, but the logic was not completely misplaced. Had the majority of Labour Parliamentarians backed a Yes vote, the campaign would have looked very different. And had Labour voters backed a Yes vote as heavily as Conservative voters backed a No vote, the result would have looked very different.

There are plenty of arguments that can be had about why things turned out that way (Why was Ed Miliband able to lead so few of his MPs into the Yes camp? Was Nick Clegg right to insist on a 5 May vote? and so on), but looking to the future political reformers risk being placed in a similar situation once again where a compromise ends up lessening rather than strengthening the chances of success.

Proposals for reforming the House of Lords will provide two key flash points for reformers – both genuine political reformers and those who like to talk about being reformers but who somehow always find a reason to oppose change when it comes to the crunch.

The pair of flash points is over what proportion of the Lords should be elected and what voting system should be used. Personally, I would prefer a 100% elected Upper House using STV, but I’d be happy with an 80% elected House (for 80% is so much more than 0%) and one using a different form of proportional representation, if that is what is needed to achieve reform.

The risk, as with AV, is that a compromise proposal is put forward which then far from achieving widespread support both puts some people off in principle, and also provides a convenient excuse for those who aren’t really that keen on reform and wish to oppose the government come what may to claim a principled reason for opposing reform. You can already see the first signs of that over the possibility of an 80% rather than 100% elected house.

The challenge therefore for those in political reform pressure groups is to form a broad and unified coalition – and to use both charm and pressure to ensure those across all parties who talk about liking elections for the Lords don’t then suddenly find excuses to oppose elections.

A response from Anthony Barnett is posted over on the original.


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