It is tempting to vote “No” to AV to punish Nick Clegg — he could have reached a simple supply and confidence arrangement with the Tories but the lure of the cabinet table was too much for him. The lack of any leaflet from the “Yes” campaign or from the Lib Dem in the council election could be another reason.
But I will be voting “Yes” and this is why. This referendum is about the future, not current politics. The first past the post system has generally, but not always, produced governments with good parliamentary majorities in the past 60 years.
It was not always so, and in the 19th century, before party discipline became so strong, prime ministers had to fight for every vote in debates over great decisions.
In more recent years we seldom see really good debates. Blair famously avoided attending the House of Commons. I believe coalitions and even minority governments can be good for democracy: they force leaders to argue their case, under tough scrutiny, to win the important votes in the House.
AV will ensure that MPs have support, even if it is sometimes reluctant, of a majority of voters. It is a system used in many elections here and around the world without problem.
But let’s look at what AV might mean here in the Central Suffolk and North Ipswich constituency. Dan Poulter, who is showing himself as a good constituency MP representing all his constituents, would have been elected MP last year.
He just squeaked past the winning threshold with 50.8 per cent of the votes. It is just possible that more people might have voted UKIP in a first round under AV, but he would certainly have won, probably with a bigger share of the votes. The Lib Dems overtook Labour to come second in this election.
Looking at previous elections things become more interesting. In 2005 Michael Lord, Conservative and a deputy speaker of the Commons who was not a very active constituency MP, was elected on 43.9 per cent of the vote. It is likely that he would have won but it might have had to go to a third count.
In 2001 Lord got 44.4 per cent of the vote and was only 3,469 votes ahead of Labour. Everything would have depended on second preference votes of Lib Dems.
In 1997 Lord was elected with 42.6 per cent of the vote and a majority of 3,458. Again everything would have depended on Lib Dem voters’ second preferences.
The elected members for Mid Suffolk and North Ipswich could well have been the same throughout this period if we has used the AV system. But clearly the candidates would have had to work to widen their appeal.
Under first past the post, the objective of candidates here needs to be to gain the support of about four out of ten electors.
I would much rather see MPs campaigning to get the support of more than half the electorate. That is why I will be voting “Yes” to AV.