Vote reform will ‘prevent radical reform’


4:40 pm - August 31st 2010

by Don Paskini    


      Share on Tumblr

Right-wing think tank Institute of Economic Affairs warns its readers that voting reform will make it harder for “radical free-market economic reforms”, such as slashing social benefits, to happen.

Such reforms, they argue, will only ever be supported by a minority of people, and under a preferential voting system it would have been harder for someone like Thatcher to get elected:

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.

    Share on Tumblr   submit to reddit  


About the author
Don Paskini is deputy-editor of LC. He also blogs at donpaskini. He is on twitter as @donpaskini
· Other posts by


Story Filed Under: News

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.


Reader comments


If that’s true, then First Past the Post would be even better – over 50% supporting a party that is opposed to these crazy free market reforms, and the rest split between two parties well out to the right.

I don’t see why this affects radical right-wing reforms but not radical left-wing reforms. Plus the Tories went through the last election campaign denying they were going to do loads of the stuff they are actually doing – so if it does apply doesn’t it just encourage parties to be less up-front about what they want to do?

I think tim f has a point there – doesn’t the need for second preferences encourage dishonesty and deception to some extent? It’s no longer enough to gather the support of those who believe you are heading in the right direction; you now have to gather those who are not happy with your direction. The best way to do this is to disguise the nature of your plans more than politicians currently do.

The original post makes this point nicely: “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.” That is to say, there is an inbuilt bias towards reactionism in a system like AV (this could work the other way – if a large proportion of the population pay taxes to support others, then it is difficult to imagine them placing their second preferences for a party that will increase taxes ahead of one that pledges to reduce them for example), which mean radicalism of all types loses, and the norm becomes goverments focussed on consensus politics comprised of people with more concern with attaining power than enacting solutions (of whatever type – remember the right wing is trying to solve problems in government as well). If you regard radicalism as a bad thing, this is no problem, but otherwise this is a problem that needs to be addressed by supporters of AV.

Heh, are they saying what us loonies have been saying for years, that the British electorate is actually more lefty than we’re led to believe ?

S. Pill,

No – just that the electorate is not as right-wing as they would like. Since elections since 1970 tend to show the electorate rejecting left-wing (unless you really want to make the case for Mr Blair) alternatives except in 1974 (when the alternative was Edward Heath!) and 1997 (when Mr Blair still sounded vaguely radical in some ways) in favour of right-wing or centralist, I think we’re pretty safe in saying that over the last four decades the British electorate as a whole has not shown many signs of being particularly left-wing. Could be lack of credible choice of course, but still.

@Watchman

Surely “not as right-wing” = “more left wing”? Or am I committing a grevious sin of logic here?

Shorter right wing.

We don’t need no stinking democracy. We just demandt free market bullshit.

8. Chris Baldwin

Change rightwards isn’t really “reform” is it? Not how the term would be understood historically, anyway.

Heh, wasn’t this the entire premise that Naomi Klein revealed in her book The Shock Doctrine? That the majority of people in representative democracies will always vote against these measures because they’ll be harmed the most by them, so best make damn sure they can’t make such decisions?

10. Charlieman

Is Denmark a figment of my imagination? A country with a centre right government, a very liberal economic and employment culture and PR elections via a list system? If the IEA was being true to its professed beliefs, it would be having wet dreams about AV.

* AV will create different results to PR via list system, but it will almost always demand creation of a coalition government. The Danish system is slightly clearer to voters: government there will always be conducted by a coalition.

As with @ 2.

I can’t see that AV kills radical right wing reforms any more than it kills radical left wing ones. Anything off the current centre ground, anything off the current “way we do things” gets killed.

“We don’t need no stinking democracy. We just demandt free market bullshit.”

Absolutely. IEA people might reflect a little on just how damning their argument against electoral reform is.

Don – I’m frankly astounded you could post this in the present situation. The received wisdom we heard for years from people who favoured voting reform is pretty much what you describe above. But the mechanism by which this moderating influence was supposed to be delivered was coalition government. Failing to recognise this and concentrating on the mechanism is strictly for the anoraks. You’re reminding people what Thatcher got in 1983 when we now have a government tramping where she feared to tread – and they couldn’t even win a majority under FPTP? If this doesn’t make people wake up to the fact that too much is claimed for voting reform, I don’t know what will.

Try: Choosing an electoral system – a British Academy report:
http://www.britac.ac.uk/policy/choosing-electoral-system.cfm

@7, 12

“We don’t need no stinking democracy. We just demandt free market bullshit.”

Well, since a free market would need a democracy (free market in government – any other way to do it, since government is not something that can be bought?), I think that makes no sense. For the upteenth time, free marketeers are democrats. Totalitarian regimes favour business interests over freedom of markets. After all, how many truly free markets are not democracies (possibly Singapore, but I am not convinced)?


Reactions: Twitter, blogs
  1. Liberal Conspiracy

    Voting reform "will prevent radical free-market reforms" http://bit.ly/bobDyW

  2. LLPaulJ

    So it's a reason for voting reform, then RT @libcon: Voting reform "will prevent radical free-market reforms" http://bit.ly/bobDyW

  3. GuyAitchison

    Fundamentalist right fears representative politics>RT @libcon: Voting reform "will prevent radical free-market reforms" http://bit.ly/bobDyW

  4. Don Paskini

    RT @libcon: Voting reform "will prevent radical free-market reforms" http://bit.ly/bobDyW

  5. Simon Foster

    RT @libcon: Voting reform "will prevent radical free-market reforms" http://bit.ly/bobDyW

  6. Free Stuff

    Voting reform “will prevent radical free-market reforms” | Liberal … http://bit.ly/a0g728

  7. Pucci Dellanno

    RT @libcon: Voting reform "will prevent radical free-market reforms" http://bit.ly/bobDyW

  8. P. S. Wong

    RT @libcon: Voting reform "will prevent radical free-market reforms" http://bit.ly/bobDyW

  9. mark grip

    Voting reform “will prevent radical free-market reforms” | Liberal …: Market liberals need to remember that That… http://bit.ly/aY4aHs

  10. Gareth Winchester

    RT @libcon: Vote reform will ‘prevent radical [RW economic] reform’ http://t.co/746ws2y <- Another reason to vote #Yes2AV

  11. blogs of the world

    Market liberals need to remember that Thatcher won 42% of the vote in 1983 ? and it is hig… http://reduce.li/srfume #vote





Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.