Is the alternative vote worth voting for?

This was the subject of a debate at UCL last night, where leading figures from the yes and no camps met alongside electoral experts and UCL students to argue the point.

For the yes side, Billy Bragg and Katie Ghose argued that the referendum provided an opportunity to offer greater choice to voters, to combat the sense of disenfranchisement among those who do not identify with the parties likely to win under first past the post, and to challenge MPs to target the wider population rather than swing voters.

For the no side, Jane Kennedy and Charlotte Vere called AV a timid reform, a shield for Liberal Democrat unpopularity, and a change that far from combating safe seats would just make different seats safe.

A third camp too emerged, of those who didn’t care for AV or FPTP, but wanted change of a different kind. For them different questions were important: if AV passes, will it be the start or the end of reform? Is AV a compromise worth making?

A quick poll at the end of the night indicated that the vast majority of those attending were in favour of the change to AV, but with a little under a month to go, it’s still all to play for. Last night showed how much we need this debate so, what do you think? Whether you think AV is progressive or regressive, a step towards or away from greater democracy, a political fix or a non-event, let us know…

Further information:

The 1st Global Conference on Transparency Research

The 1st Global Conference on Transparency Research, a multi-disciplinary and multi-method conference will be hosted by Rutgers University-Newark. This conference is co-sponsored by:

• Rutgers School of Law-Newark (primary sponsor)
• Center for Studies on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information –CELE-, School of Law, Palermo University, Argentina
• The Constitution Unit, University College London, UK
• Governance: An International Journal of Policy, Administration and Institutions
• School of Public Administration, Renmin University of China
• School of Public Administration and Public Policy, Kookmin University, Korea
• School of Public Affairs and Administration, Rutgers-Newark, USA

The purpose of the conference to bring together scholars from a wide range of fields including sociology, anthropology, political science, public administration, cultural studies, political economy, journalism, technology, and law who study issues of governmental transparency. This is the first large meeting of its kind to bring together leading scholars from throughout the world to collectively advance our understanding of the impact and implications of transparency policies that involve governments, either directly or indirectly. This includes policies on access to information held by and about governments, transparency relationships between government entities, transparency relationships between governments and private and non-profit entities, and access to information held by government about individuals.

The conference committee has put together an excellent program. Professor Christopher Hood, the Gladstone Professor of Government and Fellow of All Souls College Oxford, is the conference keynote speaker. The keynote speech is sponsored by Governance: An International Journal of Policy, Administration and Institutions. Marco Daglio, Head of the Public Service Delivery Unit, Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development will present an overview of the OECD’s Open Government Project. Martin Tisné, Program Manager of the Transparency and Accountability Initiative, will present an assessment of which areas of inquiry related to transparency and accountability deserve increased scholarly attention. The Transparency and Accountability Initiative is a donor collaborative that includes the Ford Foundation, Hivos, the International Budget Partnership, the Omidyar Network, the Open Society Institute, the Revenue Watch Institute, and the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation.

We received over 270 paper proposals from scholars from around the world. A total of 115 of these proposals were accepted. Concurrent panel topics include fiscal transparency, municipal transparency, accountability, corruption, whistle blowing, regional overviews, theoretical foundations, institutional forces, and freedom of information laws and implementation. Five organizations (Canada’s International Development Research Centre, Open Society Foundations Human Rights Governance and Grants Program, Open Society Foundations Latin America Program, Open Society Foundations Rights Initiatives, Right to Information Fund, and World Bank Institute) have agreed to provide support to fund a total of 29 individuals from developing countries. The organizing committee is very grateful for their support of these scholars. We have individuals presenting their work from Africa, Asia, Australia, Europe, North America, and South America.

The conference will take place at the Center for Law and Justice at Rutgers University-Newark. On the evening of Wednesday, April 18th there will be reception at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center (NJPAC). The following evening, Thursday April 19th, the conference participants will have dinner at the Newark Museum. The dinner will begin with a cocktail reception outside (weather permitting) and a gallery viewing of the American wing and the Victorian Ballantine House—a National Historic Landmark. The dinner will be in the Museum’s central atrium. For more information on the conference schedule and how to register for the conference visit

Should the UK adopt the alternative vote system?

A UCL debate on the AV referendum

Monday 11 April 2011, 6.00pm

The UK faces its first national referendum for over 30 years and has an unprecedented opportunity to change the voting system and reshape the future political landscape. The referendum also raises profound questions about electoral reform in the UK.

This debate will provide an opportunity to discuss the arguments underpinning electoral reform and the AV system and to hear speakers from both sides of the argument, as well as insights from an expert panel.

Have your say: questions from the audience will be a key feature of this event.

Speaking in favour of a ‘yes’ vote:

  • Billy Bragg, singer and political campaigner
  • Peter Facey, Chair, Unlock Democracy

Speaking in favour of a ‘no’ vote:

  • Jane Kennedy, National Organiser of Labour No to AV
  • Charlotte Vere, Finance Director / National Organiser, ‘No to AV’

Expert panel

  • Professor Justin Fisher,Magna Carta Institute, Brunel University
  • Peter Kellner, YouGov
  • Dr Alan Renwick, University of Reading
  • Professor Tony Wright, UCL Constitution Unit

UCL Bloomsbury Theatre
15 Gordon Street

To register for this event or to read more about UCL Public Policy, please see our website:

The Black Widow Effect? Consequences of coalition for Clegg and co.

Black Widow

In a recent seminar at the Constitution Unit, Professor Tim Bale confessed to being sceptical of the coalition’s chances of survival, and in particular, the prospects for the Liberal Democratic Party. Prof Bale drew upon a large body of cross-national research to support his opinion.

He began by describing some reasons for being optimistic about the coalition’s chances of survival, such as the fact that it is a minimal-winning coalition, made up of just two parties, which together form a majority. Furthermore, the combination is not counter-intuitive, as the parties are not too far apart. Structurally, these conditions seem to create a stable foundation for coalitions.

But the negatives outweigh the positives. One problem is the way British politics operates: British traditions such as whipped party discipline and cabinet collective responsibility do not allow for the sort of flexibility that might be needed in coalition agreements. Furthermore, British political culture does not have much experience of coalitions.

The main cause for concern, however, relates to the prospects for the Lib Dems. Using parallel examples from coalitions in New Zealand as case studies, Professor Bale indicated that the future for the Lib Dems is bleak.

As the party is relatively new, it is also ‘weakly-institutionalised’, with a number of ‘faultlines’ running through it. The apparent ‘right-left’ split between the party’s leadership and its grassroots support is perhaps the starkest example. In opposition, resolving these faultlines was never a pressing issue, but now in government, they are increasingly seismic. Indeed, as the Lib Dems fail to harvest credit for the government’s achievements, and continue to take the blame for many of the coalition’s unpopular measures, the risk is that many of the party’s members will want to escape. Should this happen, it is possible that most of the party will leave, but the core around the leadership will stay with the Conservatives.

Hence the Black Widow effect: the large spider, after having lured the small spider into a trap, often does not kill it but lets it escape, at the price of leaving part of itself behind. Whether this pessimistic outcome occurs remains to be seen.