It's interesting to see the politicos lining up for the Alternative Vote (AV) referendum next month. Some weeks ago I was convinced that I would vote for AV, but have since decided against. It strikes me as a complete botch job that corrupts the result. If no one candidate gets at least 50% you just reshuffle the pack until one does. That doesn't mean that a candidate has the support of 50% of the electorate, otherwise he would have got 50% first time, it means that a certain percentage disliked him a bit less than they did other candidates.
Those who support AV claim that candidates would work harder as they need to get 50% of the vote. Why? Why would they work harder than they would to come first in First Past The Post (FPTP) elections?
Those who support AV claim it would end tactical voting. How? Surely it will increase tactical voting as you now have the chance to study the candidates and work out the best way to use your numerous votes not only to support your chosen candidate, but to vote in the best way to keep others you dislike out.
The 'Yes' arguments just don't stack up. We have a system whereby MPs are elected to represent a specific constituency, as long as we have that sytem FPTP is the logical sytem for electing MPs. The alternative, logically, is some form of Proportional Representation, not a botch job like AV.
It is interesting that smaller parties are lining up to support AV, that always makes me suspicious. Are they merely supporting AV because they see it as a leg up to Westminster because they can't garner the support needed under FPTP? UKIP and the BNP both have representatives in the European Parliament, elected under a form of PR, but fail dismally in Westminster and local elections when FPTP is the system.
One of the arguments in support of our current sytem is that it is difficult for extremists to get a foothold in Westminster, whereas under PR there is a high likelihood that extremist parties could garner enough votes to gain representation in Westminster as the BNP have in the European Parliament. The party that bucked that trend is the Green Party who have MEPs and had Caroline Lucas elected in the general election. In my view that is no reason to support one system rather than another. It is not democratic to use a system to keep out parties of which you disapprove, instead defeat them with argument and debate.
I know PR often leads to weak government, very often coalition government but don't necessarily think that is a bad thing. A Dutch friend of mine dislikes PR because he feels that by the time parties have negotiated, compromised, bartered and horse traded to cobble a government together, even fewer people get what they actually voted for than they do under FPTP. Maybe so.
What I do know, from experience, is that under any system, smaller parties need to get real if they want to make a serious impact. In my view the public are desperately looking for alternatives to the big three, probably the big two when the Lib Dems are wiped out in the local elections and the next general election, but few of the smaller parties offer a credible alternative, they are either seen as single issue parties are obsessively idealogical.
I would put UKIP in the category of single issue, the European Union. No matter how hard they try they are perceived as irrelevant when people vote in elections other than EU elections, when they gain a good number of protest votes under PR. Likewise the BNP, who only seem to appeal on the issue of immigration at best, at worst they appeal to people with very dangerous views.
The Green Party are seen as nut munching, sandal wearing obsessives convinced that breaking wind will kill the planet. Seen as largely single issue they are also seen as too idealogical for most people. I would put the Libertarian Party in that category too. Maybe both would be better working to influence others rather than tying to get votes from a public that is not ready, and probably never will be, for what they regard as idealogical extremists. And I say that as a supporter, although no longe a member, of the Libertarian Party.
In my experience too many smaller parties attract swivel eyed loons. People who are convinced that anybody wo disagrees them is working for shady organisations working to take control of the world, or are agents working for the evil state. I've even been accused of being part of a conspiracy myself when I've questioned the conspiracy of the New World Order. In recent years I've been accused of being part of Common Purpose and even a Freemason, even though I'm a practising Roman Catholic. I have been told by numerous people, in very earnest tones, that the EU is a Catholic conspiracy. When pressed they can only cite the EU flag as evidence, it vaguely resembles the halo of stars around the head of Our Lady apparently. Well then, it must be a Papist plot!!
So, if smaller parties think tinkering with the electoral system is going to boost their represenation, I think they are mistaken. They need to put their own houses in order first.