In the course of the debate on the Alternative Vote, Churchill has been occasionally quoted, usually from the following section of his relevant 1931 speech:
The plan that they have adopted is the worst of all possible plans. It is the stupidest, the least scientific and the most unreal that the Government have embodied in their Bill. The decision of 100 or more constituencies, perhaps 200, is to be determined by the most worthless votes given for the most worthless candidates. That is what the Home Secretary told us to-day was “establishing democracy on a broader and surer basis.” Imagine making the representation of great constituencies dependent on the second preferences of the hindmost candidates. The hindmost candidate would become a personage of considerable importance, and the old phrase, “Devil take the hindmost,” will acquire a new significance. I do not believe it will be beyond the resources of astute wire-pullers to secure the right kind of hindmost candidates to be broken up in their party interests. There may well be a multiplicity of weak and fictitious can- 107 didates in order to make sure that the differences between No. 1 and No. 2 shall be settled, not by the second votes of No. 3, but by the second votes of No. 4 or No. 5, who may, presumably give a more favourable turn to the party concerned. This method is surely the child of folly, and will become the parent of fraud. Neither the voters nor the candidates will be dealing with realities. An element of blind chance and accident will enter far more largely into our electoral decisions than even before, and respect for Parliament and Parliamentary processes will decline lower than it is at present.
The rest of the speech is well worth a read but these sections are particularly valuable:
The motive power which has brought this Bill before the House is, of course, the Liberal grievance.
The denial of the redress of real grievances always breeds evils, and we are suffering now from the evil of an irresponsible Liberal party.
No Conservative can afford to be indifferent to the fate of the Liberal party. If that party disappears, if it is liquidated or broken up, where will those 4,000,000 or 5,000,00 voters go? It may be that their ultimate destination will decide the foundations of political power in Great Britain, perhaps for a generation.
And on the last point, so it seems.
Having set out the alarming features of a democracy in which an irrevocable decision is taken overnight, Churchill said:
All the more is this true when such enormous masses of voters are attached to no particular party, and when vast numbers of electors take little or no interest in public affairs, when they have to be almost dragged out of their houses to poll, when millions of people treat the whole process on which the Government of the country rests with indifference or, again, may vote on some sudden wave of prejudice.
So it seem mass political disengagement is nothing new. What is to be done?