You might find this question being revisited a few times over the next 10 months. And that’s because we heard today that the proposed referendum on the Alternative Vote will take place on May 5th 2011.
AV requires every MP to have support of at least 50% of voters. Doesn’t seem like a big leap, that is until you look at the numbers, and the General Election gave the majority of our MPs power without a real mandate.
Admitedly First-Past-the-Post sets the bar pretty low. To win you need only secure one more vote than the next guy. And that often means the vast majority of MPs speak for constituencies where most people frankly didn’t want them.
Over 2/3 of MPs are in that boat, at 66.77% an historic low. The 2010 general election saw the lowest proportion ever of MPs elected with the support of a majority of voters in their constituency (worth adding that in 2001, 2005 and 2010 not a single MP obtained a majority of their whole electorate).
But why should it matter? Well the sheer number of MPs with minority support, and the upward trend in recent years, is – at least from the voters’ point of view – straining the connection between MP and constituency. In all respects other than the provision of casework, the constituency link is as weak as it has ever been. A majority of MPs speak for their constituents despite the fact that a majority of those who bothered to cast a vote did not do so for the incumbent. While before 1974 this was relatively peripheral, it has become an ever more important feature of the political landscape since then.
AV requires that an MP will have at least a qualified majority of local voters; there will be times that the final vote for the winner will not be half of the ballots cast because of ballots that do not transfer, but most MPs will have a proper majority under AV. A majority of voters will get some degree of support, and therefore have some degree of ownership, over the MP – the constituency link should not be a one-way relationship. AV will enhance the constituency authority of the MP as well.
2010′s sorry mandates make a mockery of the constituency link and has left us with barely legitimate parliament. That link is highly rated – by MPs at least – but as ever First-Past-the-Post fails the tests its own advocates set up.