Twenty-five historians, coordinated by Conservative MP Chris Skidmore, have written to the Times, claiming that AV would be a betrayal of the sacrifice of past generations of democracy campaigners. But claiming to speak for the dead on a referendum they never contemplated seems to us a betrayal of academic standards that we as historians hold dear.
They claim to speak for historians, indeed for history, in defending FPTP. But as on any such serious political question, historians are as divided as the population at large. The notion that “History teaches us to vote ‘No to AV’”, as the Times headline put it, or that it gives any such clear lesson on the rightful configuration of the voting system again leads us to question the signatories’ scholarly acumen in supporting this petition.
Invoking the spirit of Winston Churchill on account of his 1931 objection to AV is a cheap bid for public resonance and bad use of historic example. His opposition to votes for women and to the introduction of direct elections in India make him a poor guide to future voting systems.
It is misleading to claim that under AV one citizen’s vote could be “worth six times that of another”. Instant run-off voting, of which AV is a form, retains the equal vote which the signatories of the Times letter fear is under threat. Further research would have shown that its compatibility with the principle of voter equality has already been tested in court in the US, where it was found that “no voter is given greater weight in his or her vote over the vote of another voter”.