The Tory-Liberal government say they will hold a referendum on the Alternative Vote system. It retains constituencies and “first past the post”, but people cast second, third, fourth, etc, preferences as well as first-preference votes, and the winner gets “past the post” only when transferred preferences take him or her past 50% of the turnout.
Like the current system AV leaves smaller parties (other than those with a very localised base) without representation. But it makes parties’ “transfers” — their recommendations as to how the voters who rank them no.1 should use their second, third, etc. preferences — very important.
The Lib Dems, who have long wanted proportional representation, have accepted AV as a good-enough electoral reform for a coalition deal.
It makes no sense for socialists to be last-ditch defenders (on spurious grounds of “ensuring stable government” or the like) of a “first past the post” system producing obviously distorted results.
But it is not true that electoral reform would be a decisive step forward for the left.
We also have to look at who is pushing PR, and the reasons why they advocate what they do.
The key to political progress would still lie with political mobilisation in the roots of the labour movement, not in electoral technique.
The political system in Britain needs much more than tinkering with the vote-counting system before it will be anything like real democracy.