So says Boris Johnson, Mayor of London, in an article in The Daily Telegraph to-day (February 28, 2011).
He draws a comparison between Colonel Mu‘ammar al-Gadaffi and unlamented former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown — pointing out a certain similarity of appearance and their common love of long, rambling speeches on socialist theory (in which he gives the edge, in logic and coherence, to the Colonel).
He goes on to describe the what, more than anything, the government to-day in Tripoli and Britain’s last Labour one in its dying months have in common : a régime that has held power for too long, exhausted the patience of its people and stares oblivion in the face can be reliably expected to act not in the interest of its electorate but for its self-preservation.
It was for this reason that Labour continued to bribe the electorate right up to the eve of the election — hoping to hang on to power no matter what the cost to the country — running up the public debt to such an extent that the then Minister of State at the Treasury, Liam Byrne, was moved to leave a gloating note to his successor saying there was “no more money left”.
And for the same reason, he continues, Mr. Brown, having consistently opposed it, made a cynical U-turn and announced just three months before the election his conversion to the Alternative-Vote system (AV) for parliamentary elections.
He asks what had lain behind “this mad last roll of the dice”, pointing out that the forthcoming plebiscite on AV was not a proposal of the parties that together won the 2010 general election but “a last gasp from the bunker” of the man that lost.
Boris does not expect to see an uprising in the United Kingdom akin to events recently sweeping North Africa and the Near East ; to see the B.B.C.’s World-Affairs Editor John Simpson amongst “hordes of AV supporters as they prepare to face the reactionary camel-charges of those who believe in first-past-the-post.”
That the whole thing is likely to prove a wash-out is something he regrets because, the more closely voters examine what is being put to them on May 5 the more clearly, he feels, they should see that AV is a gigantic fraud.
For those unfamiliar with the system : instead of just selecting the candidate you want to win the seat, you would be asked under AV to rank the candidates in order of preference – 1, 2, 3 &c. – so that the candidate you ranked second, for example, would benefit from your vote, should your preferred one be knocked out.
Although AV is the system used in London mayoral elections, he asks why on Earth we are considering its use for elections to Parliament.
Whilst admitting that the system would boost the representation of minor parties not normally blessed with seats in Parliament, he asks whether that is such a great thing anyway.
More pointedly he questions the often heard assertion that it will somehow make Members of Parliament more accountable and diligent because obliged to get the combined first- and second-preference support of half the voters. In fact, he points out, in U.K. elections many seats are already won with at least half the vote ; moreover, he says, they tend to be urban seats with relatively few constituents : Labour seats that have shrunk as people “sensibly flee areas represented by Labour M.P.s”.
Where, he asks, is the evidence that AV will make them more diligent, conscientious and “in touch with their electorates” ? “Complete tripe,” he says, adding that it applies as much to safe Conservative as to safe Labour seats.
He wonders how many have become confused, thinking that AV has something to do with proportional representation — in which, to as great an extent as reasonably practicable, the proportion of seats each party had in Parliament would reflect its proportion of the popular vote. In fact, he argues, AV is no such thing and would do nothing to address chronic Labour under-representation in the South-East or Conservative under-representation in the North and the Celtic lands. Roy Jenkins reported to Tony Blair that AV ought to be ruled out because less proportional and less fair.
He points to Mr. Blair’s landslide victory of 1997, in which he wound up with 419 seats (63%) with just 43% of the popular vote. AV, he points out, would have conferred upon Mr. Blair 445 seats (67%) and the Conservatives, despite their having 30% of the vote, just 70 (10%).
If the 2010 election had been held under AV, the Conservatives, with 36% of the vote, would, he says, have won 281 (43%) — as against the 306 (47%) they did win — and Labour, with 29% of the vote, 262 (40%) — compared with the 258 they won.*
Nick Clegg opposed AV before the election and Boris says he should stick to his guns. “First-past-the-post has served this country well, and served dozens of other countries well. We would be mad to go to a great deal of trouble and expense to adopt a system that is less fair than the one we have.”
By all means let there be a plebiscite, he says, but let it be the one promised : on the Lisbon E.U. Treaty. Where’s the E.U. policy on North Africa ? What has Lady Ashton to say about it ? Should we not have a vote on all that ?
* Editor’s note
It ought to be said that the inferences Boris draws, whilst they might be correct, are not psephologically sound. Voters were not, in fact, invited to rank the candidates. Although some sampling was done by way of exit polls, there is actually no way of knowing the outcome of the election had AV applied.^
Partial election results 1997 and 2010
Boris writes for The Daily Telegraph on Mondays.