Alan Renwick rebuffs exaggerated claims

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[First Published on Tuesday 26th April 2011]

This archive item is a window onto issues as they appeared at the time. It contains facts and opinions which may have been superseded by subsequent events.

Speaking to The Constitution Society, Dr Alan Renwick, described the Alternative Vote and First Past the Post as “two variants of the same electoral system” and highlighted the complexity of the underlying notion that the UK is in need of electoral reform.

Reflecting the neutral tone of his recent PSA briefing paper; “The Alternative Vote”, Dr Renwick rebuffed exaggerated claims from both sides of the referendum campaign.

The proposed system, he argued, is unlikely to address the issue of political disillusionment,safe seats or voter turnout.

Nor, though, would its implementation lead to perennial coalition government, or “cost nearly as much to implement as the no campaign are suggesting”.

The implications of the proposed change to the UK electoral system, Dr Renwick suggests, are more subtle than has been suggested by the rhetoric of the recent referendum debate.

The principal impact of AV would be felt at constituency level, giving the individual voter “a bit more choice”, reducing “the pressure to vote tactically” felt under First Past the Post and making it more likely that the most popular candidate wins.

At the national level, Dr Renwick suggested that AV is likely to exaggerate landslide majorities.   Simulations indicate that the landslide wins of 1987 and 1997 would have been even more dramatic under AV, potentially crippling the function of the opposition in Parliament.

The most certain impact of a ‘no’ vote in the referendum, he suggested, would be to reduce the likelihood of any further suggestion of electoral reform “for some time to come”.

Though cautious in his description of the implications of the proposed change, Dr Renwick remained convinced of the importance of turning out to vote on May 5th.  “We as the citizens have the chance to decide our electoral system”, he stressed, “and that’s a really important reason for turning out”.

This publication presents the personal views of the author and not those of The Constitution Society, which publishes it as a contribution to debate on this important subject.