Whether electoral opportunism or not, the planned introduction of a referendum on the Alternative Vote would be a significant improvement to the current First Past the Post system for electing MPs. By requiring that MPs gain the support of at least half of constituents, even if it isn’t all on the first ballot, AV would give MPs a greater sense of legitimacy at a time when they sorely need it. Already, the London Mayor is elected in this way, and there is some form of PR for elections in devolved elections and for Europe. Of course, it is not as proportional as other systems like the Additional Member System or the Single Transferable Vote (STV) which I happily learnt how to use most effectively in Ireland, but both would make it harder in a large country like Britain to retain the link with the local MP. It may feel like acronym soup, but it is about a stronger democracy.
So, the Liberal Democrats, as keen PR enthusiasts, should stop worrying about whether or not Gordon Brown has been having ‘death bed conversions’ and embrace AV as a major step forward for Westminster elections. Once voters get used to it, they will surely be open to more reform in the future. The only shame is that the referendum is not scheduled for polling day, when it could be sure of a big turnout and would not be open to abandonment by any government opposed to such an extension of democracy.