Wednesday, 4 May 2011

AVs and AV nots

Like Fr Lucie-Smith I do believe that Christians have a duty to vote. I am not sure I buy his line that I should trust him because he is "a doctor - of moral theology", but it is perhaps right for pastors to remind their flocks of their duty to vote.

Sometimes, as in the case of the referendum on the alternative vote, it is not at all obvious that there is one "right" way to vote and a "wrong" way to vote. The decision about which way to vote is then more a question of prudential judgement rather than of immediately moral judgement. We do nevertheless have a duty, to the best of our ability and making use of the forms of social communication, to inform ourselves about the question and come to a prudential judgement. And then to go out and vote.

Thinking Faith has an article which looks at this in more detail.
This would seem to rule out the idea of our finding a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to the question in hand, but we should not lose all hope of finding guidance, because the preceding paragraph states:

"The Church values the democratic system inasmuch as it ensures the participation of citizens in making political choices, guarantees to the governed the possibility both of electing and holding accountable those who govern them, and of replacing them through peaceful means when appropriate. Thus she cannot encourage the formation of narrow ruling groups which usurp the power of the State for individual interests or for ideological ends. (John Paul II, Centesimus Annus n.46)"

That one paragraph offers us, at least, some principles – some criteria which we might apply when considering the merits of different voting systems. Two of the principles are stated quite explicitly here: participation and accountability. A third is suggested by those final words about the undesirability of narrow ruling groups usurping power for their own interests – the principle of the common good, which is found throughout Catholic social teaching....
And their conlusion:
All in all, these considerations do not lead us to a very emphatic conclusion on the question of whether the Church’s teaching would encourage us to vote ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to the introduction of the Alternative Vote. The Church’s teaching has given us clear criteria to judge by – the difficulty is that the evidence about how well AV might meet those criteria is extraordinarily mixed.
I expect that, if the referendum approves a change to the alternative vote system for parliamentary elections, the impact will be very different in different places. In "safe seats" used to having a large majority for one of the major parties it will probably not make much difference to the final outcome. In "marginals", where majorities are small and the seat changes hands from time to time, the impact of the alternative vote system might well lead to a different outcome. There is a potential for inappropriate minority parties to gain an undue influence. This differentiation of impact is of the nature of much legislation.

My own sense is that the introduction of an alternative vote system will, in general, make those standing for election more sensitive to wishes outside of the mainstream of political stances. In marginals this will be more acute than in safe seats, but I suspect it will still occur in safe seats. [In Barking and Dagenham, those council wards in which the BNP have done well, even at one point to the extent of having councillors elected, have not shown the BNP gaining anywhere near an overall majority; so I am not convinced that such parties would gain from an alternative vote (indeed the BNP stance is to oppose AV).] This gives Christians a greater opportunity to influence for the good in the political sphere - and, of course, a consequently greater duty to go out and vote in order to exercise that influence.

And, besides, if Mr Cameron is against it it must be a good idea (oops, political bias showing).


Mike said...

The only (fairly) certain outcome of a change to AV is that the Liberal Democrats will win more seats than they would do under the present system. (Hence they are strongly in favour of AV.) How it would affect the two biggest parties would depend on how (mainly) Lib Dem voters allocate their second preferences. Thus the Electoral Reform Society estimates (guesses?) that in 2005 Labour would have gained an extra 10 seats because Lib Dem voters would have been more likely to have allocated their second preferences to Labour rather than the Conservatives. They also estimate that the Conservatives would have won 8 fewer seats. Thus instead of Labour 356, Con 183 and LD 62 the outcome would have been Lab 366, Con 175 and LD 74. In 1979 and 1983, however, it is quite likely that Lib Dem voters would have allocated more of their second preferences to the Conservatives, thus increasing the already exaggerated Conservative majority and reducing the number of Labour seats.

Thus at the national level the outcome would have been very similar under the two systems except that the Government majority over the second-placed party would have been bigger and the Lib Dems would have won a few more seats.

Give that (of the three biggest parties) the Lib Dems are the most secular party and the most enthusiastic about equal ‘rights’ for homosexuals (and thus diminished rights for Christians) is the Alternative Vote a good system from a Catholic point of view? (The Lib Dems are also officially in favour of assisted suicide and strongly opposed to ‘faith’ schools.)

As to parties trying to broaden their appeal to win second preferences there hasn’t been much sign of that happening in Scotland since the introduction of the Single Transferable Vote for local elections.

Patricius said...

The question of which party/parties would do best out of it is perhaps not really relevant. The real question has to be is it just? At present we are asked to choose one candidate. If one takes this choice seriously it is not an easy one but it is surely far easier to make that decision than to place the candidates in sequence. I say this as one who is inclined, as I get older,to dislike all of the candidates.

Francis said...

I think this puts it in a more secular perspective!

Anonymous said...

It seems to me the referendum on this subject is a distraction and diversion in the way of the ancient 'bread and circuses' approach of the Romans. It does not in anyway address the underlying problem with the political system which is that the central party machines have pretty much total control over candidates. As such, the people are only offered candidates that suit the central control, not candidates that are representative of the locality. The loyalty of these candidates is to the party not the constituents. Until that is sorted, by the constituency partys demanding the right to select their own candidates, then fiddling around with complex voting systems is a way of keeping the electorate busy so that they don't notice how little influence they actually have.