I see from yesterday's Daily Mail that a Tory party panicked by the possibility of a Yes vote in the AV referendum is about to raise the silly spectre of "advances for the BNP" under a reformed electoral system. Now, I'm all for saying we shouldn't be squeamish about the potential effect of PR on representation for extremist parties - a fair voting system is a fair voting system, full stop. But the fact is that AV is not a proportional system, and far from making it easier for far-right parties to win seats, it will actually make it much, much harder. For a vivid illustration of why this is the case, let's have a look at the 2002 French presidential election, fought under a run-off system that is similar in principle to AV. Here is the first round result -
Jacques Chirac (Rassemblement pour la République) 19.88%
Jean-Marie Le Pen (Front national) 16.86%
Lionel Jospin (Parti socialiste) 16.18%
So if that had been a first-past-the-post election, Le Pen would have come within a terrifying three per cent of becoming President of France, on an absurd "mandate" consisting of less than a fifth of electors who turned out to vote. But as it was, the backers of the assorted eliminated candidates (Jospin was one of fourteen) were given the chance to express a preference between Chirac and Le Pen in the run-off vote. Look at the difference that made in terms of how close the National Front came to claiming the keys to the Élysée Palace -
Jacques Chirac (Rassemblement pour la République) 82.21%
Jean-Marie Le Pen (Front national) 17.79%
The lesson could hardly be clearer - if you want to make absolutely certain that Nick Griffin will not become an MP, vote to replace first-past-the-post with the instant run-off system AV.