I don’t mean to drudge up the good ol’ Alternative Vote anew, but let’s think back a bit to early 2011. AV, although it seems amazing to think of it now, was ahead in the polls against the retain First Past the Post bunch. The Conservative Party was at a cross roads: should it let whatever was going to happen happen, or should they slide in hard against changing the voting system? None of us need reminding what path they chose.
This was before the UKIP surge, which may have made them think twice (I stress, may have – never underestimate Tory antipathy to electoral reform). But in an age of six party politics, with the current world and domestic situation being what it is, I think AV as a voting system would help the Conservatives by far the most. People being able to vote UKIP one, Tory second is only one of the ways they would have benefitted; in a great deal of Lib Dem-Tory marginals they could have tried to convince Lib Dem voters to put them second to keep UKIP, Labour, whomever, out. Given how close some of those races will be, it could have made the difference.
This brings us to the flip side of the irony: the party who would be sweating most right now had AV won the day in May 2011 would be the Liberal Democrats. Okay, the Lib Dems are sweating the most anyhow, but it would be considerably worse if they were facing an election to be decided under AV. Back in 2010, the Lib Dems would have almost certainly been helped to great degree by AV (always hard to say how people would vote under a different system, but estimates put it at around 20 -35 seats). But the party isn’t everyone’s second choice these days. After the coalition, the Lib Dems have a much larger marmite factor going against them, which means that under AV they would be punished.
The party who has campaigned most vociferously against First Past the Post may just about to be saved by that voting system. The consequences of this could be vast: the difference between a Tory majority and a Tory minority/Tory-Lib coalition could amount to whether Britain remains in the EU or not. Would the greatest irony then be the fact that those who campaigned the hardest against the Alternative Vote, the Eurosceptic Tory backbenchers, ended up creating a result that ultimately kept the country in the European Union? I do love a good political irony.