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Electoral reform is not just an “elite” cause

The overwhelming majority of voters now support reform.

The news that Nick Clegg will announce the details of a referendum on the Alternative Vote next week has already prompted a series of clichéd and discredited arguments from anti-reformists in both the Conservatives and Labour.

Here is Andy Burnham, a contender for the Labour leadership, on the subject:

Let's not get obsessed by this issue, because it really is irrelevant. It's a kind of fringe pursuit for Guardian-reading classes.

And here is the Conservative MP Daniel Kawczynski:

This is just something that the liberal elite of this country, a very small group, are trying to implement.

This barely qualifies as an argument. That a cause may be supported by the "liberal elite" has no bearing on its rightness or wrongness. Was the campaign against capital punishment irrelevant because it was led by the educated elite?

But in fact, the claim that electoral reform is a "fringe pursuit", were it ever true, has been comprehensively disproved. A recent ComRes poll found that 78 per cent of voters now support replacing first-past-the-post with a system that "reflects more accurately the proportion of votes cast for each party".

There are principled arguments against proportional representation (of which AV is not an example) -- that it would lead to permanent coalition government, for instance -- but the anti-reformist movement does itself no favours by continuing to employ the lazy and tired charge that electoral reform is an "elite" cause.

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