Friday, September 17, 2010

Why David Cameron should support the Alternative Vote

Nick Clegg deserves to be cheered to the echo at the Liberal Democrat conference. He has led his party out of the wilderness and into a government that is already changing the face of British politics.

There is nothing wrong with the opening of David Hunt and Michael McManus's article in the Guardian this morning. It is shortly afterwards that the problems set in.

The two authors argue that:

the emergence of a strong, broadly-based Lib-Con coalition marks the exciting rebirth of one of the most important traditions in British politics.

But the examples they offer will not reassure their Liberal Democrat readers. They point to the Liberal and Tory coalition brought in by the 1918 "coupon" election, but that coalition fell apart and marked the end of the Liberals as a party of government.

They also point to the Liberal/Tory pacts agreed in Bolton and Huddersfield and the 1950s. But these, being based more upon Liberal fear of annihilation than any shared values, will not inspire modern Liberal Democrats either.

But there is one way that the present coalition between the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats might be maintained. It could happen if the British people vote in favour of the Alternative Vote in next year's referendum.

As I have argued before, if we have AV then some form of understanding between the two parties would be possible without their having to stand down candidates anywhere or campaign less vigorously in any constituency. And, if in five years' time, the Coalition has proved a popular government, then AV would allow people to vote for it to continue.

For the AV referendum to be won, I suspect David Cameron will need to come out in support of the new system.

He might well be happier with a majority Conservative government, even in view of the further accommodations he would have to make to his party's right wing. But right wing policies - despite what right wingers believe - are not popular with the voters, and Cameron would have to bear this in mind.

If anything like the rise of the US Tea Party happens in Britain to further energise the Tory right, then Cameron may well conclude that making concessions to the Liberal Democrats will at once be more palatable and more politically successful than making concessions to the Conservative right.

So over to you, Mr Cameron. For how long do you want to be prime minister?

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