A final plea

I could’ve posted a new reason every day for voting yes in today’s referendum on AV. First past the post is the system that brought us the Iraq War, the poll tax, Black Wednesday, the financial crisis, the winter of discontent – a litany of disasters, foisted on us by parties that six voters in 10 didn’t want in power. It’s given us BNP councillors, it would’ve given David Davies leadership of the Tories, or kept Maggie Thatcher in office even longer past her sell-by date, if they’d not been so hypocritical and used it themselves.

But one of the many hypocritical and nonsensical posters by the no camp brought to mind one of the most important arguments against AV.

It ran under the tagline ‘if the Grand National was run under AV’. It depicted a horse running in second being declared ‘ the winner under AV’

There’s every chance it would’ve been the ‘winner under FPTP’ – with devastating consequences.

It’s October, 1951. The party has increased its share of the vote on the election a year previously. It’s not far short of an outright majority of votes nationwide. So why is the party leader preparing to leave Downing Street for the last time?

Clement Attlee’s Labour had racked up huge majorities in its core seats in the north of England and Wales. But clearly those votes aren’t worth as much as those in a handful of seats that actually decides the election. The near-14 million who vote Labour counted for nothing, and Britain was in the hands of an aging Winston Churchill, eventually forced to hand over to the disaster that was Anthony Eden and pre-empting the Suez Crisis.

Fast-forward to February 1974. Ted Heath asks the question ‘who runs Britain’ – and has every right to be confused by the answer. He beats Labour in the popular vote but ends up with fewer seats and little chance of forming a government. Labour rules for six months, pushes over the line in a later election but still ends up struggling to hold the country together before letting Thatcher in.

And these anomalies aren’t confined to history – even in last year’s general election, a few hundred thousands votes going the other way would’ve given us a Tory plurality but a Labout government

First past the post was devised in the days before political parties, back when the few literate local citizens (or whoever owned the rotten borough) would get together to choose a local worthy to represent their interests before the monarch. it just about held together in the early days of party politics, but its usefulness has now ended. Today’s the day to vote yes.


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