|Against widespread expectations, David Cameron's Tories and Nick Clegg's Liberal Democrats have managed to secure a full coalition, so Cameron now becomes British Prime Minister from the deal. Who has gained? Who has lost? Nick Clegg has become Cameron's Deputy Prime Minister and there will also be Liberal Democrat senior Cabinet positions. The coalition is intended to primarily end the UK recession through the introduction of widespread public spending cuts, intended to reduce the deficit. Surprisingly, the Tories agreed on the mild, half-hearted electoral 'reform' known as Alternative Vote, as practised in election to the Australian House of Representatives, Fijian and Papua New Guinean parliamentary elections, and several municipal US city elections. However, the Tories and Liberal Democrats remain far apart on issues like European Union and immigration policy. Relatively speaking, this is probably better news for Cameron, his fellow Tory modernisers and British LGBT communities than anyone else. Cameron can now use his Liberal Democrat coalition partners as a foil to strengthen the hand of centre-right social liberals within his party, against truculent, aggrieved and disloyal selfish sectarian social conservatives within and outside the Tory caucus, party organisation and in the political wilderness. As with infuriated social conservatives and the Bolger/Shipley era National Party, I suspect they'll now stomp off to the UK Independence Party (their version of our New Zealand First) and neofascist British National Party. Happily, the latter didn't win any parliamentary constituency seats and lost fifteen local council seats during simultaneous council elections. Apart from the troglodytes, Liberal Democrat electoral reform advocates are also likely to be infuriated at what they might justifiably see as the repudiation of what they thought to be a core party principle, the introduction of the Single Transferable Vote (STV) electoral option. To see why, it will be neccessary to compare the two electoral systems. In AV elections, a voter is presented with a selection of different political party candidates for a single constituency and is expected to rank them in order of preference. In successive steps, lowest preference ranked candidates are eliminated and their votes redistributed to their voters second choice candidates until a majority preference candidate is finally selected. It is important to note that AV relies on single constituency preference rankings, as opposed to multiple constituencies in the context of the Single Transferable Vote, which is a far more democratic form of proportional representation.
By contrast, the Alternative Vote electoral option isn't proportional representation. It results in a familiar situation in which only a few large parties are represented in Parliaments. It is resistant to minority representation, entails considerable costs in administration and is susceptible to gerrymandering, as was the case in Australia during the fifties and sixties when the breakaway anticommunist ‘Democratic Labor Party” directed its preferences to the Liberal Party, keeping the Australian Labor Party out of government until the early seventies. Most poignantly of all, of course, there is the sad testimony of Fiji, where an alternative vote electoral system has failed to halt Fiji's recurrent episodes of political instability over the last twenty-five years. There is a mutated version, AV Plus, where fifteen to twenty percent of the total is elected from open party lists. Still, AV Plus also enshrines larger single party rule, although it also excludes extremists and fringe elements. Still, it is skewed toward constituency electorates and thus is not a particularly proportional form of electoral representation. Single Transferable Vote electoral systems are widely used. They are used for lower house elections in Tasmania, Legislative Assembly elections in the Australian Capital Territory, Legislative Council/upper house elections in Western Australia, Southern Australia, New South Wales and Victoria, Northern Ireland Legislative Assembly elections, Irish Dail (parliamentary) elections and Maltese parliamentary elections. They have the advantage of familiarity for New Zealanders- we use them in hospital board and some municipal elections. It came second in the first indicative referendum on electoral reform in New Zealand, ahead of FPP.
They consist of preferential voting, as with the alternative vote, but have the advantage of multiple seat constituencies, which preserves the element of proportionality lacking in AV electoral systems. Few wasted votes occur in this system, although as with AV, it is costly to administer, given the number of preference ranking elimination rounds that may be needed before the final winner is chosen through a particular quota system. It is preferable to AV/ AV+ and one suspects that the British Labour Party may well use Liberal Democrat disillusionment to capitalise on any shed voters from this disappointment through arguing for STV in future electoral contests. Finally, the major casualty may be the 'United Kingdom' itself. There is only one Scottish Tory MP left in the House of Commons, and Scottish Nationalist Party leader Alex Salmond has warned that there will be retaliation north of the border in the event of any radical public spending cuts. Ultimately, this could strengthen the hand of those who want a Scottish independence referendum, and insure success for any such referendum.
Therefore, apart from Cameron and Tory modernisers (and LGBT Britons, indirectly), it is difficult to see who else has really won from this coalition deal.
Recommended: Electoral Reform Society UK: http://www.electoral-reform.org.uk Pink News: http://www.pinknews.co.uk BBC News: http://news.bbc.co.uk UK Gay News: http://www.ukgaynews.org.uk Craig Young - 17th May 2010