Why both the Public and the Tories will benefit from AV
The first thing that anyone needs to make clear in the debate surrounding electoral reform is that there is no ideal voting system, whenever we design a system to regulate affairs whether that be in business, our home life, or in this case a mundane voting system that no-one outside Westminster cares about we make trade-offs and reach a compromise on a solution - there's a reason why those of us ridicule the claims that Proportional Representation is the only 'Fair' way to run elections. They put too much emphasis on how 'representative' the vote is and throw all other considerations out the window. While I'll continue to laugh at those sort of campaigners it's pretty clear in its current form that First Past the Post has run its course. We don't have to discard it, we can improve it, and we can make a case for voting for AV and then fighting to keep it (online shopping).
I can sympathise with those who want to be able to keep the 'core' accountability (Where it is clear where the blame for decisions should fall), and people like that who've worked hard for the party for such a long period of time should be respected, their views have failed to update to the modern times. We don't live in the age where the only two parties are Conservative and Labour, and even to an extent the Liberal Democrats 11.9% of electors voted for parties outside of these three outside of the general election, and there's substantial evidence that Coalition government in Britain may become the norm whatever happens to the voting system. Without throwing the baby out with the bathwater and conceding to PR, we need to find a way to make Coalitions if they come about work more effectively and AV allows that.
Would we be having all this wailing, mixed signals, and unrest within the grassroots and parliamentarians about the prospect of 'Coalition candidates' if there was a possibility for members to simply express their preference rather than having to give their support to a joint ticket of a party they very much oppose? Would there be claims about Coalition governments having no mandate and cries of betrayal if there was a signal sent by the electorate about which party has more of an overall appeal to join as a junior partner? FPTP looks set to produce more coalition governments which it is not well-suited to manage, it seems to me that the only way we can resolve this is to adopt AV.
The most important aspect however is this, and this is the point which campaigners against seem to miss the most :
The purpose of AV is not to have some appropriate weightings so that people who feel stronger about the candidates it comes down to have more of a say or to make any judgements like this whatsoever, it’s to ensure that people’s incentive is to be honest. Currently you have to be tactically, as voting for anyone but the very few (1-3 usually) candidates who might win that seat is a waste. However only a system with equal weight, where the vote is transferred to the next preference candidate, would give people the right incentive to be honest and mark their ballot paper in the true order of their preference.
Tim Montgomerie is credited with kicking off the debate between 'Liberal' and 'Mainstream' Conservatism but this really is just a resurfacing of the arguments that were being battled before and just after the election about the merits of the 'Cameron' project kicked off by Lord Ashcroft who drove home the point to Tories that the public simply didn't want to listen to what they had to say, the question now being have we gone too far in that process.
There's those like myself who thought we lost the election because we didn't go far enough, the most telling comment coming from one survey in 2009, we were like 'A British telephone box, which looks appealing from the outside, but if you open the door it smells like piss.' We didn't go far enough in reforming the party, we alienated the public with our decisions on Europe giving credit to Labour slogans of 'same old Tories', we made it seem too eager that we wanted to cut public spending (and therefore in the discourse 'cut services') and spent too much time attacking Gordon Brown rather than outlining what a Conservative government would do ourselves, leaving voters with an impression that we didn't stand for anything.
The other side of the argument actually agree with the last part of that analysis to an extent, we didn't outline what we stood for in a clear coherent way, but they believe that it's because we stopped talking or developing policies based around the 'Tebbit Trinity' of Immigration, Europe, and Tax. Voters were only too eager to adopt these sort of ideas and that we'd forgotten them and allowed them to be snapped up by UKIP, with the Mail suggesting it lost 10 seats, and Iain Martin of the WSJ suggesting UKIP represent a problem to the Conservatives.
Why is this rambling important in a post about changing the voting system? One of the important cases that the latter group of Tories cite when saying that the party should swing back to the right is the performance of UKIP at the elections of the European Parliament. (Ironically) elected under PR in which there is more of an incentive to vote for minor parties support for minor parties has outstripped that of any of the three main parties. UKIP came second, allowing those who made this argument to say that we should adopt their stance or lose out.
Under AV they can put their money where their mouth is without the risk of a vastly changed result, or the problems that come with proportional representation. If voters were able to express a preference for UKIP and send a clear signal about their level of support it would be far easier to see if 'Mainstream' Conservatives claims have any weight, it would be far easier to make comparisons between about what we could gain from adopting that position, and what we would lose from abandoning the centre ground.
If consumers benefit from competitive markets, shouldn’t constituents also benefit from competitive politics? We need parties to be able to see the accurate representation of people's preferences if they're going to be able to formulate policies which will allow them to deliver results and to win. It may even be able to settle the debate in the Conservative party about which direction to take it. Unless there is anything devastating to change my mind I'll be voting Yes when the AV referendum comes to pass, I hope other Conservatives can bring themselves to do the same.