In a letter to The Times (£) this morning, nearly thirty of our most prolific and celebrated historians, many of them household names including Niall Fergusson, David Starkey, Anthony Beevor, Amanda Foreman, Simon Sebag Montefiore, Professor Richard Evans and Andrew Roberts, whose expertise between them covers the full span of British democracy, have united to send out a message- that if the Alternative Voting system is adopted, it will undermine centuries of reform and run counter to the history of our nation’s democracy.
Their message is clear. As the letter states, the fight for universal suffrage in our parliamentary democracy ‘established the principle of one man or woman, one vote. The principle that each person’s vote is equal, regardless of wealth, gender, race, or creed, is a principle to which generations of reformers have dedicated their lives. It is a principle upon which reform of our parliamentary democracy still stands.’
Historians recognise that AV threatens to break this principle of one man or woman, one vote – something so crucial to our parliamentary democracy. AV will allow some votes to be given greater weight than others, essentially giving some citizens a greater voice – something that hasn’t happened since 1950.
It has been argued unconvincingly that AV is ‘fair’. There is nothing fair about allowing a supporter of the BNP the chance to have their vote counted several times once their first preference was eliminated, while another voter who favours a mainstream candidate, would only have their first preference counted. There is nothing fair about allowing one voter’s third preference to become as important as another voter’s first preference. There is nothing fair about a system which can ensure that a candidate who comes second or even third might end up being elected.
And there is nothing fair about a system which, in encouraging a near-permanent state of coalition, takes power away from the electorate to choose their government, only to place it in the hands of politicians at Westminster. As Pam Giddy, the Chair of the Yes Campaign Steering Committee, admits: ‘Settling for AV is a pure politicians’ fix’. Manifestos become worthless, as the Lib Dems have found to their cost, and distrust in politics is perpetuated.
The deeply dishonest nature of AV has long been recognised. Eighty years ago, Winston Churchill argued strongly against the system, calling it ‘the worst of all possible plans. It is the stupidest, the least scientific and the most unreal… determined by the most worthless votes given for the most worthless candidates.’
Roy Jenkins, in his Independent Commission on Voting Reform in 1998, concluded that AV was ‘unacceptably unfair’ and ‘less proportional’ than our current system. And even the Electoral Reform Society, the wealthy backers of the Yes campaign and who have much to gain from AV’s introduction, have admitted that AV ‘can be less proportional than first past the post’ and is unsuitable for electing a representative body such as Parliament.
Nick Clegg told The Independent on April 22nd 2010 that he was ‘not going to settle for a miserable little compromise’. With his party slumped in the polls, Clegg might be happy to sell himself short; but this is not the time to take a wrecking ball to our democracy. As some of our most important and influential historians have warned today, “The cause of reform, so long fought for, cannot afford to have the fundamentally fair and historic principle of majority voting cast aside; nor should we sacrifice the principle which generations of men and women have sought: that each being equal, every member of our society should cast an equal vote.”
The full text of the Times letter and the latest list of signatories is below:
Our nation’s history is deeply rooted in our parliamentary democracy, a democracy in which, over centuries, men and women have fought for the right to vote.
That long fight for suffrage established the principle of one man or woman, one vote. The principle that each person’s vote is equal, regardless of wealth, gender, race, or creed, is a principle to which generations of reformers have dedicated their lives. It is a principle upon which reform of our parliamentary democracy still stands.
The referendum on 5th May which threatens to introduce a system of ‘Alternative Voting’ – a voting system which will allow MPs to be elected to Parliament even if they do not win the majority of constituents’ first preference votes – also threatens to break this principle.
For the first time since 1928 and the granting of universal suffrage, we face the possibility that one person’s casting ballot will be given greater weight than another. For the first time in centuries, we face the unfair idea that one citizen’s vote might be worth six times that of another. It will be a tragic consequence if those votes belong to supporters of extremist and non-serious parties.
Twice in our past, the nation has rejected any threat to the principle of one citizen, one vote. The last time, in 1931, Winston Churchill stood against the introduction of an Alternative Vote system. As he argued, AV would mean that elections would be determined by “the most worthless votes given for the most worthless candidates”. He understood that it was simply too great a risk to take.
The cause of reform, so long fought for, cannot afford to have the fundamentally fair and historic principle of majority voting cast aside; nor should we sacrifice the principle which generations of men and women have sought: that each being equal, every member of our society should cast an equal vote.
For these reasons, we urge the British people to vote “No” on May 5th.
Professor David Abulafia
Dr. John Adamson
Professor Antony Beevor
Professor Jeremy Black
Professor Michael Burleigh
Professor John Charmley
Professor Jonathan Clark
Dr Robert Crowcroft
Professor Richard J Evans
Professor Niall Ferguson
Dr. Amanda Foreman
Dr. John Guy
Dr. Sheila Lawlor
Simon Sebag Montefiore
Professor Lord Norton of Louth
Dr. Richard Rex
Dr. Andrew Roberts
Professor Richard Shannon
Chris Skidmore MP
Dr David Starkey
Professor Norman Stone