David Owen: I support a PR system, but I will be voting ‘no’ in the AV referendum

Share
Related Topics

The referendum on AV has, unsurprisingly, generated very limited enthusiasm. People know they are being used as part of a fix between politicians unwilling to trust voters and let them have a free choice between proportional representation as well as AV and the status quo. Fixes happen in Parliament, but they have no place in the referendum.

I have been a long-standing supporter of proportional representation and joined the Electoral Reform Society in 1985, determinedly campaigning for proportional representation for more than two decades. This referendum will not set Britain down the path of real electoral reform; it will replace a bad system with a worse one, and risks putting off the prospect of real reform for generations.

* Gordon Brown had offered the Liberal Democrats a three-way referendum in the coalition negotiations: first past the post, the alternative vote and proportional representation. That is the option Nick Clegg and David Cameron should have put to us in the referendum. Refusing to put proportional reform on the agenda and give the public a real choice is a serious mistake by the Conservative Party and the Liberal Democrats.

* AV is no more than the "miserable little compromise" Nick Clegg described it as. AV does not address the unfairness of the present system. It won't end safe seats, tactical voting or wasted votes. It is a system that none of our partners in the EU use, and it has been rejected by inquiries into electoral reform.

None of these inquiries favoured a system where the second preferences of the least popular candidates have the most influence. Because the first candidate to get eliminated under AV – typically a fringe or extremist candidate – gets their votes redistributed first, they have the best chance of determining the final result. Also, AV can make election results even more disproportional. The Electoral Reform Society described AV as "not suitable for the election of a representative body, eg, a parliament". At the same time, AV does little to make it easier for smaller parties to get into Parliament.

As to the argument that a Yes vote in May will open the door to proportional representation in the future, this is wishful thinking. If AV is installed even on a low vote, it will have to be tested for a substantial period of time since rapid constitutional change destabilises our political system.

* There are two scenarios after a Yes vote. If AV proves popular, there won't be demand for further change. And if it proves unpopular, voters will demand a return to first past the post – as they did in the three Canadian provinces that tried AV then went back to first past the post. Either way, implementing AV would end the reform process.

* I have great sympathy with those who fear a No vote will end the possibility of electoral reform. Obviously, the defeat of AV will not immediately trigger a referendum on PR, but a principled "No to AV, Yes to PR" can keep the door open for real reform. Popular demand for PR won't go away after a No vote; the present fragmentation of support for the major political parties will not end simply because of a No vote.

If AV is opposed only by those who want the status quo and the referendum is defeated, then proportional representation will die, too. I urge you to vote for constitutional change because you believe in it, not for a tactical or questionable long-term advantage. Electoral reformers who vote "No to AV, Yes to PR" will help to establish that it is the best system. Stand firm with the courage of your own convictions.



Lord Owen was the leader of the Social Democratic Party

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Senior Risk Manager - Banking - London - £650

£600 - £650 per day: Orgtel: Conduct Risk Liaison Manager - Banking - London -...

Commercial Litigation Associate

Highly Attractive Package: Austen Lloyd: CITY - COMMERCIAL LITIGATION - GLOBAL...

Systems Manager - Dynamics AX

£65000 - £75000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: The client is a...

Service Delivery Manager (Software Development, Testing)

£40000 - £45000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A well-established software house ba...

Day In a Page

Read Next
The economy expanded by 0.8 per cent in the second quarter of 2014  

British economy: Government hails the latest GDP figures, but there is still room for skepticism over this 'glorious recovery'

Ben Chu
Comedy queen: Miranda Hart has said that she is excited about working on the new film  

There is no such thing as a middle-class laugh

David Lister
Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little
Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

Meet the US Army's shooting star

Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform