The Tory Case for AV
by Matt Grist
David Aaronovitch makes a compelling case in the Times for David Cameron supporting a ‘yes’ vote in a referendum on AV. Aaronovitch argues that having said how great and natural coalition government feels, Cameron cannot easily go back to scaremongering about political deals behind closed doors. This is right, but there are more fundamental reasons why Tories should now support AV.
Tories reject the notion beloved of Whigs that systems can be reformed wholesale to create perfection out of the crooked timber of humanity. Tories see it as their remit to pragmatically conserve the durable institutions of political and civic life. But equally, conservatives are not supposed to stand, like King Canute, against the major currents of change, and historically they have not done so. Bills like the Great Reform Act of 1832 and Disraeli’s Reform Act of 1867 show that when needs must, Tories have embraced change.
In the 1990s the doyen of New Labour, Anthony Giddens, spoke of a ‘Third Way’ which combined a desire to renew civic institutions (including families) with a concern to reduce social injustice. Giddens argued that this ‘Third Way’ was necessitated by two big failures. The first was that of British socialism, expressed in a welfare dependency that eroded social solidarity by reviving the idea of the undeserving poor. The second was the failure of extending unfettered markets into all aspects of life, which eroded the civic institutions that maintained the very social norms that allowed markets to function.
We have recently re-experienced these failures in the guise of a structural deficit and a financial crisis. These outcomes have left both Brownite statism and neo-liberal conservatism in tatters, which has consolidated our ‘Third Way’ mentality. We – and by ‘we’ I mean the majority of voters who are not overtly tribal – all now sit somewhere between Gordon Brown and John Redwood.
Having fully internalized these experiences the British public will be of a ‘Third Way’ mindset for some considerable time, which means an electoral system that better represents their centrism is required. Pragmatic Tories should recognize this cultural shift and support AV. For I presume they believe in a voting system that reflects the common sense of the people, not the ideological tribalism of Westminster.