British voters have rejected a proposal to change the voting system for parliamentary elections in spectacular fashion. By a margin of 68% to 32%, they chose to keep the ‘first past the post’ system, under which the candidate who gets the most votes on the first count wins, rather than adopt the Alternative Vote (AV) system, under which if no candidate won 50% or the vote on the first count, second-preference votes – and then third-preference votes, and so on – would be redistributed until a candidate passed the 50% threshold.
The main beneficiaries of AV would have been Nick Clegg’s Liberal Democrats, currently the junior partner in Britain’s Conservative-led coalition government. And despite their current marriage of convenience with the Tories, the Lib Dems remain at their grassroots a resolutely left-of-center party. Indeed, senior Lib Dem Vince Cable joined with far-left figures in the Labour party in claiming that under AV the two parties would form a ‘progressive alliance’ that would keep the Conservatives out of power for generation.
Unfortunately for what passes for the British Left, this country, like the United States, remains a fundamentally conservative one; New Labour’s recent spell of 13 years in power followed a tectonic shift to the centre. True, under Cameron the conservatives have also moved towards the centre on some issues, but by any measure of public opinion, be it welfare, immigration or the European Union, Britain remains a small-c conservative nation.
That ‘progressive alliance’ exists only in the fevered imagination of the left, a fact neatly illustrated by the fact that the Yes vote prevailed in just handful or areas, several of them in London, and all of which are hotbeds of what can best be described as elite metropolitan opinion – well-to-do areas populated by BBC journalists, other media types, lawyers, professional activists and the like; in other words a hugely influential but minuscule sub-section of British society that has very little in common with their fellow countrymen.
Also yesterday, the Conservatives did rather better than expected in ‘mid-term’ local council elections, and Labour – after several months of savage attacks on the Tory austerity measures made necessary by the years of Blair/Brown profligacy – rather worse. This has been a good day for British conservatives; it seems their progressive foes will have to wait a little longer for their generation in the sun.