The Alternative Voting System

Posted: May 4, 2011 in Labour Fight

The Alternative Voting System – Yes or No ?

Labour Fight- Kate Williams

On 5th May voters will have the chance to vote in a referendum on changing the electoral system to the Alternative Voting (AV) method. So what is AV ? Basically, the voter can rank their candidates in order of preference, if they so choose. Each candidate that polls below 50% of the vote is eliminated with the votes then being redistributed to the voter’s next preference and so on. Nick Clegg referred to it as a ‘miserable little compromise’ before shacking up with the Tories. The long held position of the Lib Dems is for full proportional representation (PR), that is, number of votes equals number of seats, normally subject to a minimum threshold, say 5 %.

The Tories are largely opposed to PR because the current system- first past the post (FPTP), where the candidate who receives most votes wins- benefits them most. It is likely to continue to do so with the coming reduction of parliamentary seats and electoral boundary changes that are generally unfavourable to Labour. However, the Tories needed the LibDems to prop them up so they agreed to a referendum on the ‘compromise’ option , which was as much the junior coalition partner could expect in exchange for their ministerial salaries.

The Tories have backed the No to AV campaign vociferously. A no vote alongside a meltdown in local government for the Lib Dems, both of which look likely will damage the Lib Dems. In so doing it will also undermine the coalition government as a whole. However, what principled position should Socialists adopt towards the question of the voting reform and towards the current proposals ?

The first consideration is that any proposed ‘reforms’ are within the confines of the capitalist system and will only go as far as the capitalist system will allow. PR has long been favoured by the Lib Dems as they have seen it as a way of gaining influence, along with an increased share of the spoils, in a parliamentary system traditionally dominated by the two main parties.

The parameters of debate have been set by the ruling class. As such it is no surprise that the arguments for electoral reform carried by the mainstream media have failed to catch the public imagination in a society where politics and politicians have become increasingly discredited and scandalised.  AV looks set to be rejected by the electorate if the polls are anything to go by.

One of the main arguments for FPTP is that it tends to produce ‘strong’ and ‘stable’ governments.  Strong and stable for whom? For big business, that’s who! The landslide victory for Labour in 1997 gave us a government with a big majority.  They preceded to whittle this away over a number of years by breaking its promises at home and waging war abroad, in the interests of capital. The trade union leaders, a key factor in bringing Labour to power, largely acquiesced, as anti-union laws were left intact public services were privatised and jobs were cut, laying the ground for the current all-out assault on the welfare state by the ConDems. Would AV have prevented any of this ? It’s unlikely whatever the permutations.

Reform of the bourgeois voting system is a tactical question. In this case there is no real choice.  We should reject the arguments for ‘reform’, and also those against as they do nothing advance the cause of the working class or poor. Were there a choice on 5th May for a system of full PR, there would be a strong case for Revolutionary Socialists to argue for a Yes vote.  The left would clearly benefit with voters less impelled to go for the ‘least worst’ for fear of ‘wasting’ their vote. The potential for genuine militants to become tribunes for the working class, to take the struggle from the streets into the chambers of parliament and the local councils would increase.

But we must have no illusions. Parliamentary democracy is a façade for the rule of capital. As such the politicians can debate, discuss and vote however they wish as long as the interests of big business have the final say ! No electoral system can change this.  We live in a society where the ruling class has all the means at its disposal from influencing opinion to outright vote rigging. This can only be challenged and ultimately overcome by the working class. In becoming aware of their power as the real producers of wealth in society, they will strike blows at the system using the general strike, mass demonstrations and constructing new organs of state power- the worker’s councils. Here, democracy will be exercised directly at workplace and community level and representation will be subject to rotation and right of recall by the general assembly and mass meeting.

Revolutionary Socialists stand for workers’ democracy, based on the workers’ councils, as the first step towards the destruction of the capitalist state and transition to a society without classes. They stand for this without equivocation wherever they speak out for the working class, whether it is on the street, the picket line, council chamber or parliament.

Kate Williams


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