The tragedy of the Eurosceptic movement continues. The enthusiasts for more EU government delight in the continued divisions.
The choice of voting system is important. Eurosceptic Conservatives are sure that keeping first past the post is the best chance of having fair elections which can change governments, and of holding elections which may produce a Eurosceptic majority government. UKIP are equally sure that we need to introduce AV, presumably as part of their continuing policy of the “need to teach Conservatives a lesson”.
Conservatives are not opposing AV because the leadership have insisted we do or because the whips demand it. The party advises voting against AV, but it is a free vote issue over which campaign you back and vote for. Most Conservatives oppose AV because we think it undesirable that elections are settled by the second preference votes of those who vote for minor or unpopular parties. We also see that the federalist Lib Dems believe this new system of voting will help them greatly. The arithmetic of past elections shows that if the AV system had been in place it would haven increased the pro EU majority in the Commons. Why should the candidate who comes second or third on the normal measure get the job?
So why do UKIP think otherwise? UKIP presumably hope that AV would encourage more Conservative voters to vote UKIP first choice , with the back up that they could continue voting Conservative second choice. UKIP say they would be able to argue that a UKIP vote was not then a vote for Labour or the Lib Dems. Instead removing a vote for the only Euosceptic party that could beat Labour and Lib Dems, the Conservatives, they hold out the hope that all would be fine on second preferences.
This argument is a difficult one for UKIP to sustain, as they have to imply that even with AV they would continue to poll well short of a winning margin and would expect their voters’ second preference to come into play. The fact that they would be unlikely to win under an AV system is realistic. They have never won a European election under a party based PR system, and did not win in Buckingham in 2010 when there was no Labour, Conservative and Lib Dem opponent. The danger of course is that the UKIP and Conservative first choice votes would be so split that it would make it easier for the pro EU opponents to get past the Conservative total and the magic 50% in marginal seats.
Let us suppose that in a marginal the Conservatives last won with 37% of the vote. Labour had 31%, Lib Dems 22%, UKIP 3%, others 7%. If the UKIP theory is right and numerous Conservatives switch to UKIP on first preference, the AV first round result might be Conservatives 27% (10% switch to UKIP), Labour 39%,(they are currently well up on their 2010 result) Lib Dems 12% (as they are well down in the polls currently), UKIP 13%, others 9%. Second preferences would easily give this seat to Labour, with the UKIP voters’ second preferences not coming into play.
This is why many Conservatives who are good Eurosceptics do not agree with UKIP that AV would give us a majority Eurosceptic Parliament. The Eurosceptic movement continues to split itself in a way which undermines its influence.