Support 100 years of independent journalism.

  1. Politics
2 July 2010

Electoral reform is not just an “elite” cause

The overwhelming majority of voters now support reform.

By George Eaton

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:

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

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.

Special subscription offer: Get 12 issues for £12 plus a free copy of Andy Beckett’s “When the Lights Went Out”.