The Communist Party of Britain has called for a “no” vote in the referendum on AV. In March the Political Committee adopted a policy paper explaining why that decision was taken. In this article I will attempt to develop some of the arguments in that paper and combat some of the myths perpetuated by the left wing “yes” and right wing “no” campaigns.
AV is good for small parties
To some it may seem surprising that the CPB has adopted a “no” policy, as both the “yes” and “no” camps say that AV would be good for small parties. From Baroness Warsi’s hyperbole that AV would hand power to “extremists” and the Green Party’s assertion that AV will increase it’s chances of winning parliamentary seats – both are wrong.
AV will not hand power to small “extreme” parties. The smaller parties will undoubtedly pick up a number of first choice votes, but in reality the small parties will be eliminated fairly quickly, and voters’ second choices for more mainstream parties will come in to play. It is true that “extremists” are now using their second or third choices to bolster the Labour or Conservative support – but that is exactly what they would have done under the current system anyway.
AV will not help smaller parties win seats. In order for any party to win a seat a candidate will need 50% of the vote. If small parties were able to muster this kind of support, they would, by definition, no longer be small parties!
AV will end tactical voting
To some degree it may. People will no longer put a cross next to a candidate “just to keep the other lot out”. However this argument doesn’t hold any water. A voter’s first choice may no longer be tactical, but their second choice will be exactly that.
AV will end “jobs for life” for MPs
This is simply untrue. At the moment if an MP can be elected on 30% of the vote, then they have far less support than if they are forced to win 50% of the vote. A small majority is much easier to overturn than someone who commands the support of over half of the electorate.
AV will make politicians “work harder” for our support
No it will not. As candidates will now be seeking to capture as many second preference votes as possible, AV will have the reverse effect on how a candidate campaigns. Far from working hard to set out their policies, a successful candidate will be the one that is as middle of the road and least outspoken as possible.
AV is more democratic
While AV does go some way to improve the democratic mandate of an individual candidate, it does not improve democracy. In seeking second choice votes a winning candidate is now backed not by a supportive and enthusiastic electorate, but rather a body of public opinion that was rather apathetic towards them. The MP will be the one that is “ok”. Not particularly great, not particularly inspiring. AV does nothing to improve democracy within parliament, nor does it provide a better representation of the actual choices of the electorate. Only a proportional system “improves” democracy.
AV ends “wasted votes”
On the contrary it wastes more votes. As each round passes, more and more votes are discarded as we move down the list of preferences. Also, as happened in the Labour leadership contest, a candidate who starts of in the lead, and maintains that lead only to be beaten in the final round, has all of their support “wasted”.
AV is better than “first past the post”
In a very limited way it is. An MP with 50% support (even if that is made up of third choice support) is better than an MP with only 30% support. However the compromises winning that 50% will entail far out-way the benefits. AV will still leave the electorate with either a Labour, Conservative or Lib-Dem candidate, and as analysis of previous elections has shown, AV would not have delivered a different government in any of the elections since the second world war.
AV is good for the “left”
It is not. As we have seen AV will not help smaller parties. The fractured nature of the left means that while smaller left wing parties will pick up first place votes, as the voting rounds pass, all of these will be pooled into support for the Labour candidate. This doesn’t change the current situation.
This is particularly dangerous. As the 13 years of New Labour have shown, the Parliamentary Labour Party relies on support from the “squeezed middle”. It panders to the false class consciousness of people who consider themselves “middle class”. As one of the major planks of our party’s policy is to win the Labour Party back to left wing, working class politics, AV will totally undermine our efforts. Labour candidates will no longer have to bother winning left wing voters as now the “looney left” can have their first choice protest vote and the Labour candidate can rest on their laurels knowing that all of our second choice votes will go to them in a tactical move to keep out the Conservative candidate.
AV will enshrine middle of the road politics in Britain. This middle road will entrench the status-quo of our capitalist system. As a revolutionary party that also stands candidates in elections, this is something we must oppose. As AV rolls out, the middle ground of politics will be increasingly fought over and the voices of smaller parties will be entirely lost. As “extremists” communists cannot allow parliament to be further dominated by policy and policy makers who will prolong the hegemony of the capitalist system. Communists must not be fooled into thinking AV is more democratic. AV merely strengthens the grip of the current elite over our political system.
Tim Gulliver is the Media and Communications Officer, South West of England and Cornwall District; and Secretary, Exeter and South Devon Branch of the Communist Party of Britain