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On May 5 the British constitution faces a potential tsunami. If electors succumb to boredom, apathy and ignorance, and fail to tick the box against the Alternative Vote in the forthcoming referendum, the consequence will be the virtual destruction of the Westminster model of democracy. The political institutions which have served the country so well for many generations have already come under a succession of attacks which have proved all the more effective and dangerous for being mounted by methods of guerrilla warfare rather than frontal assault.

The technicalities of the Alternative Vote hardly matter. There is, in any case, a whole family of voting methods called AV. They share the characteristic of being rare and complex. The key political reality is that the form of AV being presented to the UK electorate will, if accepted, make coalition government the norm. It will make it extremely hard to remove Nick Clegg and the Liberal Democrats. AV will give the third party an extra 25 seats. Unless there is a huge imbalance of support for the two main parties, the Liberal Democrats will be able to choose between a deal with the Tories or a deal with Labour.

If the Liberal Democrats gain power within the current Coalition government as a result of success in obtaining AV, they will then use their increased strength to argue for other constitutional changes designed to consolidate their strength even further. 

There is a simmering battle between Conservatives and Liberal Democrats within the government over the proposed reforms of the House of Lords. If a reformed House of Lords is largely or completely elected, and if — as already agreed between the two parties of the Coalition — such elections are held under a system of proportional representation, the Liberal Democrats will then be able to become the pivot of power in the Upper House. To limit the damage, it will be in the Conservative interest to reduce the role of the Lords and in the Liberal Democrat interest to extend it.

If the Liberal Democrats consolidate their veto role over British politics, they will be able to block policies favoured by a majority of electors almost permanently. In particular, it will be hard to contain the successive losses of sovereignty to the European Union.

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Sean McHale
April 5th, 2011
11:04 AM
This is anti-democratic nonsense. The author argues that reforms are being pushed through with little consultation yet there is a REFERENDUM on AV. It seems quite the opposite of non-consultation. What's more, Labour, the Lib Dems, the Greens & UKIP all advocated electoral reform in their election manifestos. The people voted for change. The author seems to want to constitutionally protect what he would vote for. His argument is a greater threat to democracy.

March 31st, 2011
4:03 PM
This is a well-argued case. It certainly convinced me that AV has been neither worthy or thoughtfully argued. There is a huge waste of money and nothing will be gained apart from employment of some very third rate journalists and psephologists. I had used the collective term 'tsunami' before the Japanese earthquake and have resisted doing it since. You have pointed out a magic circle much in the same way as Alan Clark described in his diaries in Oman. If anything has shown the errors of allowing a third party to work its 'magic' it has been Clegg, who apart from pulling the wool over his own party, had pulled the wool over the electorate. I thought I was alone - this article should be directed at every LibDem councillor, agitator to make them ashamed. The word liberal has been scorned in Germany in the local elections. I can only hope that the British public will ensure that Clegg and his chums never get their hands on our tax money again. If anything, the term "AV" has sullied a useful shorthand for some Hindu philosophy (advita vedanta). Now that IS the ultimate reality!

March 31st, 2011
12:03 PM
Case in point: Several broadsheets reported last week that discussions are being held in the Conservative Party about the need to ‘shore up’ support for Clegg by agreeing to selected LibDem policies, should the they get a thrashing in the forthcoming local elections, and ‘even more shoring up’ should there be a ‘no’ to AV. All to save his skin, and consequently the coalition. In other words, the weaker a party becomes and the less popular with the electorate they are supposed to represent they become – the more influence they will have in setting the coalition government’s agenda. This is the surreal world of coalition politics that AV will cement for good. Should there be a ‘yes’ to AV - Cameron’s relentless pursuit of power (seemingly at any cost) might well spell the end to strong majority governments (and particularly Tory ones) for the foreseeable future. For that alone he deserves to be deposed as leader.

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