Sunday, 30 January 2011

A big decision in May

If all goes to plan the 5th May will not just be the day you get to vote on the make up of your district council, it will also be the day when you get to make a decision that will potentially shape our country for generations to come.

The reason for this is 5th May will also be the day when there is a referendum to seek your views on whether there should be a change to our whole electoral system, when you get to vote on whether we should keep our historic 'First past the post' system or replace it with a system called the 'Alternative Vote'.

For many years the Lib-Dems (and others) have campaigned for a fairer voting system than we already have. In fact, the opportunity to have a referendum on AV was a key tenet in the coalition agreement, however is AV fairer? and perhaps more importantly would AV be better for the country?

My own personal view is that it isn't, in fact in many ways it is less equitable than our current system and I shall try to explain why here.

The AV system, for a start, does not mean everyones vote has an equal weight. We shall still have constituencies the only difference is that to win a seat a candidate would need 50% of the total vote. 50% is gained by transferring the second, third and fourth votes of less popular candidates until someone gets a majority. So why isn't it fair?

Firstly, if you live in a heavily weighted Labour or Conservative constituency it is highly likely that the main party candidate would already have 50% of the vote. Even if the winner has only 50.1% the views of the other 49.9% of the electorate wouldn't have any further effect on the make up of our parliament. In this respect AV is just like our current system.

However in much more balanced areas, three way marginals for example, votes are disproportionately weighted towards supporters of minor parties. It is entirely possible that supporters of fringe parties can have their vote counted five or six times whilst supporters of the main parties only count once. In effect what this means is someone's fifth choice is treated as equally as important as someone else's first preference - but there is a big difference between positively wanting one candidate to win and being able to 'put up with' another, isn't there?

To see how equitable AV is let's take a look at the countries that already use this 'fairer' system. In the entire world only three countries currently use AV, Australia, Fiji and Papua New Guinea. It gets even worse when you consider that Fiji are actually getting rid of the system and in Australia, because of the complexities turnout at elections went so low that the government had to pass a law making voting compulsory.

First past the post, on the other hand is used widely around the world, not just by us. Countries that use the system also include Canada, India and the USA - arguably slightly more complex and more important economies than Papua New Guinea?

So why did the Lib Dems argue so much for AV? The answer is simple, because they would always be part of a coalition government!

Now we have already seen how trustworthy Mr Clegg and his friends are when it comes to them being in power but perhaps we can see their consistency on other matters when we look at some of their previous comments about Alternative Vote.

Before the election Mr Clegg said about AV 'It's a miserable little compromise', his Cabinet colleague, Chris Huhne however said 'The Alternative Vote does not give voters real power'. It's astonishing what a sniff of power can do to the Lib-Dems isn't it?

Perhaps more damning however was the view of the Electoral Reform Society when they said '...AV is not a proportional system, we do not regard it as suitable for the election of a representative body, e.g. a parliament'.

Is this something that we really want?

Just remember come the 5th May there will be a huge decision to make. Please don't take it lightly...

3 comments:

  1. If there is to be a referendum on May 5th I will reluctantly be voting against the introduction of AV as it is being currently proposed. I agree entirely with Leon that the proposal is fudge and not the true PR that for many years I have worked for.

    I have already been berated by many of my friends and colleagues within the Labour Party as a ‘Dinosaur’; and as my national leadership are supporting the AV fudge, life will be difficult.

    This means that I may have to stand on platforms with a group of political grandees that I would not normally support – and this will be challenging for me.

    But life in politics is not like some are led to believe a bed of roses – and I will have to stand up for my views.

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  2. The views of the Electoral Reform Society should carry a lot of weight here. They are to voting what NICE are to prescribing - reliable, knowledgeable and unbiased. Could you post the link, Leon?

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  3. Terri,the quotes used were from a leaflet issued by the no2av campaign. Their website is www.no2av.org .

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