It is reported that the Labour Government will pledge to put a referendum early in the next parliament to consider an alternative vote replacement of our first-past-the post-system. Firstly it should be noted that Labour are highly unlikely to be called on to honour such a pledge, since they will probably be in opposition by then. Secondly it should be seen as a bid to attract Liberal Democrat support for Labour in a parliament with no overall majority. The Lib-Dems are unlikely to fall for it, being more or less committed to helping the largest party to rule rather than strike deals of this nature. The timing of this proposal perhaps shows a Labour party resigned to not winning another term.
There is a more general point. The proposed change is designed to make future Conservative governments unlikely, since the other parties have a track record of ganging up on them in tactical voting. Indeed, it would make outright winners less likely than coalitions, European style. It is often said that the present UK system is unfair because it under-represents minor parties in parliament. This may be true, but fairness is only one of its aims. Another is stable government, which an alternative vote system might undermine. There is an even more important attribute of the present system: it enables us to change governments quickly and decisively. On the Continent a swing of 10 percent might result in a few minor changes to junior ministry posts. In the UK it usually heralds a removal van pulling into Downing Street next day. Our system enables us to get rid of governments when we think them past their sell-by date, and that is not an advantage to be tossed aside lightly.
Dr Madsen Pirie’s “101 Great Philosophers” makes a great and affordable Christmas gift.