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If you want PR, vote Yes tomorrow

If the system can be changed once, it can be changed twice.

By George Eaton

One of the biggest problems for the Yes to AV campaign has been that many of its own supporters aren’t keen on the system. Ben Bradshaw, for instance, who is now leading the Labour Yes campaign, did little to disguise his opposition to AV when he spoke to the New Statesman in November 2009.

As he said:

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The reason I’ve never supported AV is that it would have given us an even bigger majority in 1997, and it would have given the Tories an even bigger majority in 1983, and probably 1987 as well.

Before the referendum, Alan Johnson, one of Labour’s most passionate electoral reformers, admitted: “I’ll support AV, but my heart won’t be in it in the same way as if it was the proper thing.”

Some supporters of proportional representation (PR), most notably the former SDP leader David Owen, are so opposed to AV that they are calling for a No vote tomorrow. Others may choose to stay at home on the day. Why get out of bed for a “miserable little compromise”?

But if AV is rejected tomorrow (and the final ICM poll puts the No campaign 36 points ahead), there is almost no chance of a future referendum on PR. If the British people won’t vote for moderate change, the anti-reformists will argue, how can they be expected to vote for radical change? First-past-the-post would be not just preserved but strengthened by a No vote.

By contrast, a Yes vote tomorrow would increase the possibility of a subsequent transition to proportional representation. If the system can be changed once, it can be changed twice. As Nigel Farage puts it in his interview with the Spectator’s David Blackburn, AV is “a crack in the damn”. A Yes vote would banish the myth that there is no popular demand for reform, that any system other than FPTP is not “British”. Only the most masochistic electoral reformer would vote No tomorrow.