The Alternative Vote system will prevent radical free-market reforms
I have no constitutional objection to the Alternative Vote system (AV). Fears over constantly hung Parliaments or permanent coalitions are largely unfounded. In Australia, where AV was introduced in 1919, it has, with the exception of the election last week and the 1940 General Election, delivered strong governments despite the presence of popular “third parties” such as “State Labour” in New South Wales during the 1930s and 40s, the Australian Democrats in the 70s, 80s and 90s and the Greens from 1993.
But AV is not a good way to elect Members of Parliament who will support radical free-market economic reforms. Why is this? In the United Kingdom today almost 50% of the population rely on the government for a sizeable portion of their income, and even more receive some money in the form of tax credits or old-age support.
In the most recent General Election, the British Conservatives (not exactly running on the most radical free-market platform) polled 36% of the vote. Just over a third of British voters were willing to give their “primary vote” for a party willing to cut the deficit quickly and enact the beginnings of free-market school reform.
Any party that wishes to become government under AV will be elected on the second, third or fourth preferences of those parties who finish lower down the ballot paper. If a large proportion of the population receive money from the system, then it is difficult to imagine them placing their second preferences for a party that will withdraw social benefits, ahead of one that pledges to retain them. To put it another way, a lot of those on the left would give their preference to a social democrat candidate, but few on the right would give theirs to a free marketeer.
Market liberals need to remember that Thatcher won 42% of the vote in 1983 – and it is highly unlikely she would have gained a lot of second preferences. Changing the voting system may be good for other reasons, but it makes a government that will be willing to enact radical free-market reform less likely.