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

Associate Recrutiment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped OTE: SThree: SThree Group have been well ...

Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + OTE: SThree: Real Staffing Group is seeking Traine...

Year 6 Teacher (interventions)

£120 - £140 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: We have an exciting opportunity...

PMLD Teacher

Competitive: Randstad Education Manchester: SEN Teacher urgently required for ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Letter from the Political Editor: Cameron's unexpected tax pledges give the Tories home advantage

Andrew Grice
President Barack Obama walks with U.S. Secret Service agents to Air Force One at Los Angeles International Airport in Los Angeles, Calif., May 8, 2014.  

Obama's Secret Service has become sloppy with its delusions of Hollywood grandeur

David Usborne
Italian couples fake UK divorce scam on an ‘industrial scale’

Welcome to Maidenhead, the divorce capital of... Italy

A look at the the legal tourists who exploited our liberal dissolution rules
Time to stop running: At the start of Yom Kippur and with anti-Semitism flourishing, one Jew can no longer ignore his identity

Time to stop running

At the start of Yom Kippur and with anti-Semitism flourishing, one Jew can no longer ignore his identity
Tom and Jerry cartoons now carry a 'racial prejudice' warning on Amazon

Tom and Jerry cartoons now carry a 'racial prejudice' warning on Amazon

The vintage series has often been criticised for racial stereotyping
An app for the amorous: Could Good2Go end disputes about sexual consent - without being a passion-killer?

An app for the amorous

Could Good2Go end disputes about sexual consent - without being a passion-killer?
Llansanffraid is now Llansantffraid. Welsh town changes its name, but can you spot the difference?

Llansanffraid is now Llansantffraid

Welsh town changes its name, but can you spot the difference?
Charlotte Riley: At the peak of her powers

Charlotte Riley: At the peak of her powers

After a few early missteps with Chekhov, her acting career has taken her to Hollywood. Next up is a role in the BBC’s gangster drama ‘Peaky Blinders’
She's having a laugh: Britain's female comedians have never had it so good

She's having a laugh

Britain's female comedians have never had it so good, says stand-up Natalie Haynes
Sistine Chapel to ‘sing’ with new LED lights designed to bring Michelangelo’s masterpiece out of the shadows

Let there be light

Sistine Chapel to ‘sing’ with new LEDs designed to bring Michelangelo’s masterpiece out of the shadows
Great British Bake Off, semi-final, review: Richard remains the baker to beat

Tensions rise in Bake Off's pastry week

Richard remains the baker to beat as Chetna begins to flake
Paris Fashion Week, spring/summer 2015: Time travel fashion at Louis Vuitton in Paris

A look to the future

It's time travel fashion at Louis Vuitton in Paris
The 10 best bedspreads

The 10 best bedspreads

Before you up the tog count on your duvet, add an extra layer and a room-changing piece to your bed this autumn
Arsenal vs Galatasaray: Five things we learnt from the Emirates

Arsenal vs Galatasaray

Five things we learnt from the Gunners' Champions League victory at the Emirates
Stuart Lancaster’s long-term deal makes sense – a rarity for a decision taken by the RFU

Lancaster’s long-term deal makes sense – a rarity for a decision taken by the RFU

This deal gives England a head-start to prepare for 2019 World Cup, says Chris Hewett
Ebola outbreak: The children orphaned by the virus – then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection

The children orphaned by Ebola...

... then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection
Pride: Are censors pandering to homophobia?

Are censors pandering to homophobia?

US film censors have ruled 'Pride' unfit for under-16s, though it contains no sex or violence