Letter published in The Times, 10 January 2011
Sir, Daniel Finkelstein (Opinion, Jan 5) wonders why supporters of what he calls “pure proportional representation” might support the Alternative Vote. Here are two reasons.
First, there is a strategic question. A Parliament elected by AV might be more willing, by virtue either of the distribution of seats that results or of the change in party culture that might ensue, to change the system again, whereas first-past-the-post (FPTP) confirmed in a referendum is much less likely to produce a Parliament interested in further change.
Second, there is no such thing as “pure proportional representation”. Every PR system has its own characteristics. The most popular, and best, is the Single Transferable Vote, which works in the same way as AV but with multi-member constituencies. The change in the party culture would in many ways be similar to that produced by AV, in that parties and candidates are rewarded if they reveal their own second and subsequent preferences, and punished if they do not.
FPTP, on the other hand, rewards parties and candidates that maintain the fiction that all the others are equally bad. Everybody knows that this is not true, and we should no longer connive in the pretence. For all its faults, AV rewards realism and honesty in politics.
Chair, Federal Union