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Voting for an alternative?

April 22, 2011
AV cartoon

The referendum on AV is fast approaching now and I’ve been weighing up the options and trying to ignore the rather dismal spectacle of the 2 opposing sides using the worst kind of political debate at every turn.  So, what does it come down to?

First Past The Post (FPTP) is the system currently used for Parliamentary elections in this country.  Under FPTP each voter in a constituency selects one candidate and the one with the most votes in a single count is elected to Parliament as that constituency’s MP.  This means that a politician selected by considerably less than half of constituents can be sent to parliament to represent them.  I think it’s fair to say that this is not ideal.

Alternative Vote (AV) is the system proposed to replace FPTP in the coming referendum.  Under AV each voter in a constituency has the opportunity to indicate an order of preference for the candidates on the ballot paper.  The 1st preference votes are then counted and if no candidate has more than 50%, the candidate with the lowest number is eliminated.  The eliminated candidate’s 2nd preference votes are then allocated to the relevant candidates and used in a second count.  This process of counting, elimination and re-allocation of votes continues until a candidate achieves over 50% of the votes in a count.  That candidate is then elected as the MP for the constituency.

At first glance AV seems complicated when compared to FPTP.  On closer inspection, it’s really not.  We all do this process in our heads on a regular basis.  Going to the shop for a snack for example: I’ll have a Mars Bar or, if there aren’t any, I’ll have a Kit Kat or, failing that, I’ll have a cereal bar.

More importantly, it seems to me, is the question of whether AV actually delivers a viable alternative to FPTP and makes our democracy more representative.  I believe the constituency link of each and every MP is a vital part of our democracy so AV, which retains that link, is viable in that sense, unlike some other possible systems.  It doesn’t seem that AV will appreciably increase the cost or administrative burden of running an election either.  So far, so good.

The question I’m stuck on personally is: does AV make our parliament more representative and, therefore, more likely to respond to the needs of constituents?  First of all I don’t think, as has been said by the No campaign, that AV will drive politicians to adopt extreme policies or views in order to pick up lower-order preferences from the voters of extreme parties (eg. the BNP).  Politicians are notorious vote-whores but I think even that sort of thing might stick in their craw a bit.  Not to mention that they would risk alienating their core vote and that sort of thing scares them more than a phone call from the News of the World on a Saturday.

On a similar subject I can’t see any extremist party making gains, like a seat in Parliament, out of this.  They’re extremists because they lie so far outside normal politics that they won’t be able to get 50% of the vote.  If  I’m wrong, we’re screwed anyway as a nation.

What I can see happening is politicians actually listening to what people in their constituency want, even if they indicate that they will be voting for someone else, in the hopes of picking up those lower-order votes.  I think we will see, at a local level, much cherry-picking and tweaking of issues from others’ manifestos.  This is likely to have the effect of reducing the importance of the national structures of the big parties and politicians being ‘on-message’.  I hope so.

So, it looks like I think that AV is viable and is likely to make our democracy more representative at the constituency level.  It won’t stop hung parliaments and won’t entirely stop certain seats being ‘safe’ but nothing’s perfect.  The only question for me now is whether the probable benefits of AV are enough to justify voting for it and all the changes it would bring or is it better to stick to the devil you know?

In answer: I will be voting Yes to AV.  It seems to be the only way to go and is a little bit of a reaction to the negativity of the No campaign.  Although I suppose a No campaign is negative by definition.  We’ll call it excessive and unnecessary negativity then.

Whatever happens, on the 5th May this year I’ll be sticking an X in the box.  Whatever system is used to run our democracy doesn’t change the fact that it is a democracy.  Democracies don’t just happen, they are made by people defending, and ultimately exercising, their rights to elect their own leaders.  Please, vote in this referendum, one way or the other.  Exercise your right to vote and hopefully we’ll never have to fight again to defend it.

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. 21stcenturypillock permalink
    April 22, 2011 09:42

    Its nice to see people question the rubbish being spouted by both sides of this campaign.

    The BNP point is particularly important, because most people believe it will lead to them getting representation. I can’t see it, I made a similar post myself about that although less well put.

    Whats even more annoying that after all this, turnout is going to be so low anyway.

    • April 22, 2011 09:45

      I think your last point is the key one for me, 21stcentury. Whatever happens we have to convince people to turn out. I really don’t think the way the campaign is being run is helping that at all.

  2. Zephanie Thompson permalink
    April 22, 2011 19:54

    Agreed! 🙂

  3. Dave Green permalink
    April 23, 2011 10:50

    Personally, I like the idea of AV, mainly because I live in a constituency where if you don’t vote for Labour then your vote is pretty much wasted.
    However, let us not forget that a version of AV was used by Labour in their leadership election.
    David Miliband won the first round with 3% more of the vote than Ed, but as we all know thanks to AV it was Ed that got the job in the end, which I suppose, depending upon your political allegiance, was either a good thing or a bad thing.

    • April 23, 2011 12:08

      The interesting point for me here is that the politicos (including those in the No camp) are happy to use AV to elect their leaders etc but think the British public are too stupid. They may be right, but it’s no way to run a democracy.

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