openDemocracyUK

Keep Parliament unrepresentative, say free marketeers

For most people the fact a particular voting system delivers an unpopular and unrepresentative politics would be an argument against it: for neoliberals it is an argument in favour.
Guy Aitchison
31 August 2010

There is a fascinating post about AV on the blog of the right-wing think tank, the Institute of Economic Affairs (h/t Don Paskini). It provides a revealing insight into the attitude of some market fundamentalists towards voting reform and our democracy more broadly. The Alternative Vote is "not a good way to elect Members of Parliament who will support radical free-market economic reforms", the author warns, since this system requires politicians to build a broad base of support and attract second and third preferences and this is likely to disadvantage free marketers whose views enjoy limited popularity:

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.

Conscious of the fact their economic dogmas, which do such damage to society at large, will only ever win minority support, it seems free market radicals are banking on a voting system which artificially inflates their numbers in Parliament. For most people, the fact a particular voting system delivers an unpopular and unrepresentative politics would be an argument against it: for neoliberals it is an argument in favour.

Perhaps that is why so many luminaries of the Taxpayers' Alliance are enthusiastically backing the No campaign? 

Read more about the AV referendum in OurKingdom's Referendum Plus section.

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