Vote Yes to AV for Mass Unemployment
I promised not to write any more about the Alternative Vote in the newspaper, but I am still allowed to go on about it here. I am in favour of AV in principle, and opposed to proportional representation. It is not the most important thing, but it is a simple change that would give everyone the chance to make their vote count and thus make elections more democratic at constituency level.
I’m looking forward to four hours of debate in the House of Commons this afternoon.
But none of the arguments is new. Thanks to a fabulous internet resource, digitised Hansard, the Official Report of parliamentary proceedings, from 1803 to 2005, run by the heroic Millbank Systems (“we just wanted a domain name we could spell”), we can read the debates in the House of Commons and Lords on the previous occasions when AV was proposed.
AV was the unanimous recommendation of the Royal Commission of 1910, and was debated in Parliament in 1914 and 1917. It was approved by the Commons, but voted down in the Lords.
The proposal was revived in 1931 by Ramsay MacDonald’s minority Labour administration, governing with the support of David Lloyd George’s Liberals.
The debates from 1931 are eerily familiar.
In the Commons, Captain Sir William Brass (Con) kicked off on 20 January 1931 by saying that AV was a sop to the Liberals, and a distraction from the economic crisis – on which he accused Lloyd George of breaking an election promise:
The number of people who have been directly employed by the work of the Government is 86,000, and so we are short of 500,000 on the Liberal programme, and what is the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr Lloyd George) going to do about that? He says, “I would rather have the alternative vote on the chance of being able to get some support from the people of the country than bring in these schemes which I have promised to bring in and which I told the electors I would bring in at the last election.” The leaflet finishes up with these words: Vote Liberal, and put this pledge to the test. The right hon. Gentleman is being put to the test at the present time, and the Liberal party prefers the alternative vote, and supporting the Government in taking away the privileges of the private Member, to bringing in measures which he says will reduce the number of the unemployed to the normal within a year.
More from 1931 in a moment, but let us first preview the end of that part of the story: the Representation of the People Bill was amended in the House of Lords by a Conservative peer to limit AV to London and other cities with populations over 200,000, and the Bill was lost when the Conservatives forced a general election in October 1931.
Photograph: Unemployed demonstration, Hyde Park, London, September 1931 © Science and Society / SuperStockTagged in: electoral reform
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