At last someone has made the point that I have been meaning to make for weeks: the alternative vote is even less proportional than first past the post. If anything, an electoral system based on AV will produce bigger majorities for the leading political parties than FPTP and fringe parties – like the LibDems and the BNP – will find it even harder to make headway.
However, the principle of AV is important for anyone in a particular constituency who wants to express a preference for a particular party, but that particular party is not one of the leading contenders for the seat. AV gives such people the chance also to influence the final outcome by expressing further preferences. The winning candidate emerges who has the support of at least 50% of the electorate (assuming people use their preferences) and it retains – if not strengthens – the link between an MP and their constituency. For more details see this.
Such a system is undeniably an improvement on a simple FPTP election and it is one I have long believed should be adopted in the UK. It is successfully used to elect the Australian House of Representatives.
For those who want proportional representation it is an anathema: it does not deliver proportionality. What it gives you instead is a genuinely-representative constituency-based system. No requirement for multi-member seats and no creation of two-tier MPs.
Apparently, the Electoral Reform Society and Neal Lawson, Chair of Compass, are unhappy. However, the Prime Minister’s proposal for a referendum early in a new Parliament is the sensible way forward. It avoids the public debate on the issue being lost in the turmoil/excitement of a General Election campaign and, if there is really a popular groundswell for some different change in the electoral system, no doubt that would surface in the run up to a referendum.