A Reply to Patrick English: No, Sorry

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When applied to another’s argument, ‘interesting’, as Slavoj Žižek notes, has another unstated but known meaning [1]. I can honestly say I too, in turn, found my critic’s argument interesting – but unsound.  A few rejoinders then.

First: A great deal of the article explains why FPTP is regressive and flawed. Did so many words needed to be spilled to make so un-contentious a point? I was clear throughout the Exchange debate that I share the pro-AV camp’s criticisms of FPTP – being unreflective of voting patterns, creating safe seats, national triangulation, etcetera. My argument is not that FPTP is good but that AV is worse (so let’s assume the above is all covered). This is because, basically, in embedding a culture of second preference seeking, AV would lead to further stultifying ideological homogeneity by enhancing the fear of politically ‘scaring the horses’. AV offers minimally ‘better’ institutional plurality at the cost of decreased ideational plurality and should be rejected for PR. This is mainly disputed on the grounds that Australia disproves it.

Two points: My critic argues, first, that four distinct parties achieve solid ‘voting preferences’ in Oz. But in Australian politics, as Dr. Charles Lees describes, the right-wing is dominated by a semi-permanent ‘coalition’ consisting of the (suburban) Liberals and the (rural) National Party which should be regard as a de facto single actor – like Germany’s Christian Democratic CDU/CSU – not as separate voting preference blocs. Indeed, Lees calculates that Australia has 2.42 effective political parties, only slighter larger than the 2.3 found in the UK [2]. Second, vis-á-vis continued ‘clear’ ideological juxtapositions, Australia’s mandatory voting muddies things. When 100% of people are forced to state a preference, votes break down differently. This can be seen in the fact that candidates achieve the 50% of the vote to win straight-off without re-distributing preferences in 69% of constituencies [3]. The UK is in single figures. The argument that ‘brooding’ MPs become correspondingly corrupted by their ‘minority’ mandates I’ll simply dismiss from a life of experience with on-the-ground/Parliamentary politics (cheap, yes, but words are few).

Some concluding points: Where direct comparisons are impossible we must infer from experience, founding position on their verisimilitude – and I am far from the only political academic who deduce this result [4]. Finally, as a metaphor, the term ‘the Ivory Tower’ is long redundant. As a diagnosis it is crude. Normatively, it is intellectually conservative if not reactionary. It’s basic hackery. Desist.

Article by Dr David S. Moon.

More Information

[1] Žižek S. ‘Schlagend, aber nicht Treffend!‘, Critical Enquiry, 33(1), 2006.
[2] Lees, C. ‘How unusual is the UK Coalition (and what are the chances of it happening again)?’ Political Quarterly, 2011 forthcoming.
[4] Ibid.
[5] See, for example: Threlfall, M. ‘The Alternative Vote is not the answer to the problems of our current electoral system: it is confusing, does not increase proportionality and promotes centrist politics’, March 16, 2011: http://blogs.lse.ac.uk/politicsandpolicy/2011/03/16/av-not-the-answer/