Letter: Rotten voting

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Sir: I am less than impressed by what Donald Macintyre has managed to garner about the views of the Liberal Democrats on voting reform (Comment, 25 september). I too was at Brighton, but I failed to pick up the views he claims to have heard.

We are unanimous in the view that first-past-the-post (FPTP) is a rotten system. This is not only because it hurts us (we have learnt how to turn it to our advantage and it is now hurting the Tories too), but because it forces people to vote against what they do not want, rather than in favour of what they do want; and because it forces the parties to pander to the swing vote in marginal seats.

We are all in favour of the single transferable vote (STV) because every vote counts; because the parties cannot control which of their candidates the electorate selects; because it gives a roughly proportional result; and because every voter has a choice of MPs to whom he can take any problem.

Most of us accept that, because of Labour Party prejudices, the Jenkins Commission will probably recommend an inferior system, the alternative vote. This is not a proportional system, but can be adapted to be roughly proportional by "topping" it up with proportionally elected (non-constituency) MPs from a party list (AV-plus). This has numerous drawbacks, not least that not all MPs have a constituency to represent. Worse, the proportional seats are in the gift of the parties. In short, it is also a rotten system, but less rotten than FPTP.

The argument among Liberal Democrats is whether to support the expected AV-plus system against FPTP. We know that there is a strong movement against FPTP in the country as a whole. But if the electorate get AV-plus foisted on them, is there not a risk that they will turn against PR altogether? And will we be blamed for supporting it? Would it not be better tactics to oppose any alternative short of STV?

Some of us think that our leader's presence on a Cabinet committee makes it still more likely that we will suffer from being seen to support a rotten system.