Support 100 years of independent journalism.

  1. Politics
11 May 2010

Roy Jenkins would never have settled for AV

Liberal icon warned that the Alternative Vote can prove even less proportional than first-past-the-p

By George Eaton

As I predicted they would, the Tories have now offered the Lib Dems a referendum on the Alternative Vote as part of a last-ditch effort to secure a coalition agreement.

With this in mind, it’s worth looking back at the verdict of the Jenkins commission on electoral reform, led by the great liberal icon Roy Jenkins, on AV. The 1998 report said:

AV on its own suffers from a stark objection. It offers little prospect of a move towards greater proportionality, and in some circumstances, and those the ones which certainly prevailed at the last election and may well do so for at least the next one, it is even less proportional than FPTP. Simulations of how the 1997 result might have come out under AV suggest that it would have significantly increased the size of the already swollen Labour majority. A “best guess” projection of the shape of the current parliament under AV suggests on one highly reputable estimate the following outcome, with the actual FPTP figures given in brackets after the projected figures: Labour 452 (419), Conservative 96 (165), Liberal Democrats 82 (46), others 29 (29). The overall Labour majority could thus have risen from [179] to 245 . . .

Were we to rerun last week’s election under AV, the result would not be quite so distorted. But the Lib Dems, who won 23 per cent of the vote, would still end up with just 12 per cent of the seats (79, up from 57). By contrast, under the Single Transferable Vote, the proportional system favoured by the party, they would win 162 seats.

Sign up for The New Statesman’s newsletters Tick the boxes of the newsletters you would like to receive. Quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics from the New Statesman's politics team. The New Statesman’s global affairs newsletter, every Monday and Friday. The best of the New Statesman, delivered to your inbox every weekday morning. A handy, three-minute glance at the week ahead in companies, markets, regulation and investment, landing in your inbox every Monday morning. Our weekly culture newsletter – from books and art to pop culture and memes – sent every Friday. A weekly round-up of some of the best articles featured in the most recent issue of the New Statesman, sent each Saturday. A weekly dig into the New Statesman’s archive of over 100 years of stellar and influential journalism, sent each Wednesday. Sign up to receive information regarding NS events, subscription offers & product updates.
I consent to New Statesman Media Group collecting my details provided via this form in accordance with the Privacy Policy

It’s hard to imagine Roy Jenkins would have accepted the Alternative Vote after decades of campaigning for electoral reform.

Special offer: get 12 issues of the New Statesman for just £5.99 plus a free copy of “Liberty in the Age of Terror” by A C Grayling.