Brown proposes referendum on preference voting


UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown yesterday announced plans to hold a referendum on changing the electoral system for the House of Commons to the “Alternative Vote” system, a preference voting system similar to that used in Australia.

Electoral analysis has shown that preference voting would favour Labour and the Liberal Democrats, whose voters already employ tactical voting to defeat Conservative candidates by voting for whichever candidate is in a stronger position. Rather than producing a proportional result, it would have resulted in an even larger Labour majority in 1997 when they did not come close to winning a majority.

Unsurprisingly, the Conservatives have come out strongly against the proposal and continue to support the first-past-the-post system, while the Liberal Democrats have argued that the proposal does not go far enough.

The Conservatives have a solid lead in polls for the election, which is expected in May or June, but the electoral system means that a large lead is needed for the party to win a majority, suggesting a strong possibility of a hung parliament with the Liberal Democrats and parties from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland sharing the balance of power. This means that it is plausible that negotiation following the election may revolve around kick-starting the electoral reform process, with Labour now committed to a first step and the Liberal Democrats insisting on proportional representation as a key priority.

The legislation will be passed before the election, which would mean the referendum could go ahead regardless of who won, although it is conceivable that a Conservative government could call the referendum to a halt or a deal with the Liberal Democrats could see the scope expanded.

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  1. Effects of AV on elections in the UK (Source: UK Elect)
    Election 1997 Result: Con 165 Lab 419 Lib Dem 46
    AV Election 1997 Calculation: Con 207 (+42) Lab 379 (-40) Lib Dem 38 (-8)

    Election 2001 Result: Con 165 Lab 413 Lib Dem 52
    AV Election 2001 Calculation: Con 177 (+12) Lab 406 (-7) Lib Dem 46 (-6)

    Election 2005 Result: Con 198 Lab 356 Lib Dem 62
    AV Election 2005 Result: Con 150 (-48) Lab 399 (+43) Lib Dem 81 (+19)

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