Freedom is one of mankind's fundamental treasures. Without it, health and prosperity cannot bring happiness. That is why Britain was prepared to sacrifice hundreds of thousands of lives in the Second World War. The basic expression of freedom in our country is the ability of ordinary citizens to dismiss an unpopular government by voting in a general election.
Old ways are the best: Alternative Voting throws up more questions than answers and would keep the Lib Dems in power, no matter who won the most seats (Getty Images)
The removal van that comes to the back door of Number 10 Downing Street to collect the possessions of the prime minister on the morrow of the ruling party's electoral defeat is the prime symbol of our liberty. Elections have a number of functions but "throwing the rascals out" is the most important. However popular a new premier and a freshly elected government may be, there frequently comes a time for a change. That change may come about in a whole variety of ways. Margaret Thatcher was forced out of office in 1990 by a rebellion of Conservative backbenchers. In Europe, coalition governments fall typically as a consequence of quarrels and backroom dealings in the ruling circle of politicians. Elections and electors have only an indirect role in determining who governs. In a true democracy, the ousting of the executive should be the prerogative of the electors.
Yet this precious prerogative is under threat. The danger to the system of "removal van democracy" is insidious because the threat does not come from the ranting of a foreign dictator, from natural disaster or from economic crisis. It is hardly noticed, highly technical and — let's face it — boring. Few people know what the "Alternative Vote" is. Even fewer care. Electoral reform and its many variations are the passion of small groups of political scientists and sundry campaigners — mostly with Liberal Democrat interests. They have gained a disproportionately great influence because they have caught the great British public napping.
It is curious that Britain's first national referendum for 35 years will be on such an obscure topic as the Alternative Vote. Even professional commentators know almost nothing about AV, as some of them readily admit. I doubt whether our top politicians know much about it either.
Apart from biased explanations from specialist groups linked with the Lib Dems, which have been lobbying for decades for voting reform, virtually no information is available on the meaning of the term "Alternative Vote" let alone on its pros and cons. The Parliament and Constitution Centre of the House of Commons Library, which is the country's most authoritative source of information about constitutional questions, failed in its recent Standard Note on the Alternative Vote to cite any neutral source in its list of pros and cons. It merely quoted a publication of the Electoral Reform Society. Since the society is devoted to campaigning in favour of electoral reform, it is hardly a reliable fount of information about the objections to it.
The case for voting against AV rests on three clusters of arguments: the flawed process which led the referendum to be called in the first place and the senseless hurry to push the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill through Parliament; the big-picture arguments against voting reform; and the technical ambiguities and defects of AV itself.
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