Biggest British union, 114 Labour MPs, to oppose AV

Today’s Independent reports that the biggest union in the UK, Unite, is preparing to join the campaign to oppose the referendum on changing the electoral system to the Alternative Vote. Close to half of Labour MPs are also on record as opposing AV.

Unite’s possible move would create the “strange bedfellows” situation of the Labour Party’s biggest constituent interest group campaigning alongside traditional Conservative Party organizations that likewise prefer FPTP.

It also would put Unite, along with a large group of MPs, at odds with Labour Party leader Ed Milliband, and some other unions. 114 of the party’s 258 MPs have pledged to join the no side of the referendum.

The referendum will be 5 May.

6 thoughts on “Biggest British union, 114 Labour MPs, to oppose AV

  1. Probably not surprising given that UNITE’s (Unite’s? unite’s? UK English spelling seems to have abandoned acronyms since 1991) General Secretary was elected in 2008 with 37.7% of the vote (24.7%, 19.2% and 17.8%). Hey, 37.7%’s a mandate!

  2. AV’s merit, if it has one, is to make it easier for voters to vote against the worst evil, thereby encouraging British politics to collapse toward the bi-polar Australian model. But voting should be an affirmation rather than a negation. Any proportional representation system lets voters be represented by their first choice. Being represented by your second choice is the problem, not the solution.

    Not only is AV no help, but as Lord Jenkins showed, it can easily produce even more distorted results than first-past-the-post: a step in the wrong direction.

    Westminster is a dynosaur. A prettied-up dynosaur is still a dynosaur, but it may take a while for folks to notice: AV is, at best, a diversion.

    Worse, AV is a threat to MPs who represent minority voices, like East Belfast’s Naomi Long. For example, the 44 MPs elected in 2010 with the lowest percents (37.2% or less) include two of the three Plaid Cymru MPs, both the Green Party and Alliance Party MPs, and 10.5% of the 57 Lib Dems, all representing groups whose voters were under-represented by winner-take-all, but only 3.9% of the 306 Conservative MPs, whose voters are heavily over-represented under winner-take-all. AV takes a majoritarian system and makes it even worse. Why would an electoral reformer say no MP should be elected without 50% support? What’s so wrong with that?

    Shouldn’t the majority prevail? There is no majority in the UK. No party has gotten a majority of the votes since 1931. AV will create a manufactured majority, or phony majority, by helping voters cast tactical votes for their second or third choices; and if voters still don’t do so, their votes may be discarded in the final count, all in aid of a major party claiming to have majority support when it really has no such thing.

  3. I would hope that AV would always make using preferences optional so that Wilf’s concerns could be met. The UK proposal is optional preferential, so the issue of ‘captured’ later preferences will not exist.

  4. There seems to be a very widespread misapprehension among UK journos, bloggers and commenters that AV is what the Plant Commission proposed. In fact, Plant rejected simple AV but proposed “AV-plus”, a hybrid of MMP with AV that was supposed to retain the precious single-member constituency link but also added three or four regional top-up members from an open party list.

    From perusing the British blogosphere, I have learned many other new things, such as:

    * Papua New Guinea is the only country that has ever used AV. No, wait, Ireland uses it too. Oh, and France.

    * AV leads to bloated landslide majorities, because popular leaders pick up second and third preferences from “rival” parties (a few of those who claim this seem to think this means that, eg, in 1997 Tony Blair would have won even more seats using the Tories’ later preferences. Methinks they are confusing it with Borda)

    * AV leads to hung parliaments and perpetual coalition governments.

    * AV allows “third-placed” candidates to win in electorates where they “cannot break through the Labour/ Conservative duopoly”. Whereas in Australia, to win under AV you need to come either 1st or 2nd once it’s down to 3 candidates. Yes, even Adam Bandt did.

    * Voters should reject AV because FPTP has served Britain well for 700 years – AV is too radical a change.

    * Voters should reject AV so a future government will offer a real (ie, PR) reform proposal – AV is too modest and timid a change.

    * AV means a candidate with a high plurality – say, 45% – will often be defeated because a rival with, say, 30% “hoovers up” [1] 7th and 8th and 9th preferences from other candidates’ supporters, which they quite obviously cannot have given any thought to.

    * AV does not guarantee majority rule because many voters will simply mark a “1”, or at least a “1” or “2”, only and leave the other squares blank.

    * Hung parliaments mean coalitions and coalitions mean minor parties enjoy perpetual ministerial leather regardless of the election results.

    * Nick Clegg is massively unpopular because of the spending cuts, tuition fees, and other coalition decisions, so the LibDems will be wiped out of the Commons at the next election.

    The things you learn during a referendum campaign debate…

    [1] Wilf, my understanding is that “hoovering” in Canadese (la langue Chenadaise) means “snorting cocaine”, which apparently led to much corruption of the youth after JK Rowling forbade any further de-Britishing of the Harry Potter vocabulary so Canadian youngsters got to read that “Mrs Weasley was hoovering when Harry arrived.”

  5. On the other hand, Wilf, non-extreme minor parties would often be favoured by preferences as long as they made it to the last count.

    I would presume that the referendum will impact which electoral system is chosen for the new upper house (this reform is the bigger boon for the Liberal Democrats, of course). If AV is adopted for the lower house, the case for STV for the upper will be strengthened, since this would be more symmetrical and less confusing. If not, I presume some sort of list system is more probable. Assuming the standard regions would be used for both options, non-extreme minor parties might be better off with STV.

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