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A droll post from Iain Martin on David Cameron's murky views on changing the voting system. It is possible, as Iain says, that Cameron's public position - he's in favour of keeping FPTP is, shockingly, also his private and unchanging view:

Theory Three? Outlandish this one. Cameron is wedded to first-past-the-post, thinking of it as a system that has stood his party and country in good stead — putting the voters in charge rather than the political class meeting in semipermanent session to stitch-up the next coalition to protect its interests. (This seemed to be his view a few months ago). But to save the system, he has to con the Lib Dems into thinking that he’s not really trying to save it. A “no” campaign that is moderate in tone will be more likely to succeed and to draw in defenders of FPTP from other parties. He’s hedging only because he cares so much about the cause.

Iain's argument that FPTP puts "the voters in charge rather than the political class" is the traditional, even classic, argument in favour of FPTP. So it's unfortunate that it's hard to see how it's actually true. The people in charge, if you like, are a) those that select candidates in the 150 or so constituencies that, absent a tsunami, have even a small chance of changing hands and b) voters in these constituencies. Those living anywhere else have, essentially and barring freak events, almost no ability to change the government.

Because, actually, even though no British government has enjoyed majority support in decades, the government has only changed twice in the last thirty years. True, the Tories and then Labour won a pluality but that means rather less now than it did when they shared 90% of the vote. When they only take a combined 65% share then almost as many voters are rejecting the only plausible leaders of a government than are endorsing one of the Big Two. This doesn't change the rules or anything, of course, but it does shift one's sense of what may be thought proper and seemly.

FPTP is, in the end, just a system. So is AV. And so is STV and all the other ones. None of them are perfect and so what you're doing is comparing their imperfetions. Personally, I'd have no problem with double-member constituencies (a return to an old way of doing things) but evidently that's not on the menu.

The idea, however, that FPTP is perfect and inviolate is an odd one. That doesn't necessarily mean it should be ditched, merely that the arguments made for it could perhaps do with some work done on them.

UPDATE: Noteworthy too that Boris Johnson appears to be coming around to AV.

Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.

Topics in this articlePoliticsliberal democrats