Where will AV lead?
The campaign about AV has, it’s generally agreed, been pretty dire. One question it hasn’t satisfactorily answered is: where would AV lead?One view is that it represents a “baby step” towards a genuinely proportional voting system. As Jonathan Freedland says, if we can change the electoral system once, we can change it again. I’m not sure about this. To get from AV to PR would require there to be dissatisfaction with how AV works, as it is very unlikely that people would agree to ditch something that works tolerably well. But such dissatisfaction would discredit many of those who had argued for AV - and these are the people who are likely to be the ones campaigning for PR. In this sense, moving towards AV might actually delay the adoption of PR.However, there might be something else that AV would do - it could encourage the unbundling of politics. A big failing of our present system is that it only offers us a choice between bundles of men and measures. For example, at the last election someone wanting to oppose big cuts in public spending also had to endorse a party that had been socially illiberal and insufficiently redistributive in government, whilst someone wanting bigger cuts had to either “waste” a vote on UKIP or for vote reluctantly for an “heir to Blair“. And many people wanting to support a particular party had to vote for someone tainted by the expenses scandal.AV might change this, by encouraging parties to put up a variety of candidates representing different shades of opinion or character. For example, Labour could put up a “mainstream” candidate and a “Left” one, Lib Dems a coalition supporter and a coalition sceptic, and so on.This would, of course, be suicide under FPTP, as it would split the vote. But under AV, it becomes feasible, as supporters of the “alternative” candidate could be encouraged to vote for the mainstream one as a second preference. AV would, therefore, allow for a wider choice and hence healthier representation.But how likely is this? The desire of party leaders to retain control and to appear “united” in the face of a media that, moronically, sees “disunity” as unhealthy points against it. So does the weight of inertia.On the other hand, though, putting up a range of candidates might attract voters who would otherwise stay at home. In the short-term, I suspect we wouldn’t see a change. However, if an issue were to emerge that threatens to divide a party, it could happen. And after it has happened once, it can happen often. For me, this possibility - and it’s only a possibility - is perhaps the strongest argument for AV.