AV REFERENDUM IN MAY
The battle has commenced to win over the public, but big cross party divisions on the issue
There is an important referendum this May – on changing our voting system. This is not yet it seems on everyones radar.
But clearly its is not something we should take lightly. With an Alternative Vote system in place at a General Election everybody would be given votes to say who their second, third and fourth or even lower choices are, as well as their first choice.
The way the system works is that all the first choices are counted, and if one candidate gets over half of all votes cast then they are declared the winner. However, if no candidate achieves this, the candidate with the lowest number of first choice votes is eliminated and their votes are given to whoever they voted for as their second choice. This process continues until one person has won over half of all votes. So it can be complex and costly. The Government would have to invest a significant amount of time effort and resources in explaining how the system works . It then takes a while to count the vote . The counting has to be done by machine, rather than by people. So the cost of the counting machines adds to the expense . Candidates from small fringe parties, such as the Monster Raving Loony Party, would be eliminated first. The second choices of their supporters would then be counted, giving them an influence over who wins. Even those who want to change the way we vote have mixed feelings about the AV system. And the only major country that uses it for national parliamentary elections is Australia (and Ireland for Presidential elections, the US for some local elections-Fiji has been using it but now seems to want to revert back to a first past the post format.) Before the general election, Nick Clegg described AV as “a miserable little compromise” And what about the Electoral Reform Society? They are supposed to be the experts. Well therein lies a story reflecting not so well as it happens on the ERS. Take a look at the website of the Electoral Reform Society today and you may be forgiven for thinking that the ERS has always been a keen supporter of the alternative vote. But not so very long ago the society was actually dead against AV, stating clearly that:
“‘AV is not a proportional system, the society does not regard it as suitable for the election of a representative body, e.g. a parliament” The society’s revised guide to AV billed as “all you need to know about the system on offer in next year’s referendum”, mentions none of the society’s previous concerns. Should we, one has to ask, have much confidence in the advice given by the ERS? I know what I think.
But both Nick Clegg and the ERS now support the AV system and are campaigning for us to support it as well . The ERS now says, for the record, that ‘AV represents a logical progression from first past the post. Preserving the traditional one member, one constituency, it ensures all MPs have a real mandate while delivering greater choice and eliminating the need for tactical voting.’. In other words Electors can vote for their first-choice candidate without fear of wasting their vote. The ERS says that under the AV MPs would have the support of a majority of their voters. Following the 2010 election 2/3 of MPs lacked majority support, the highest figure in British political history. The leader of the Labour party Ed Miliband has come out in favour of AV . But the presence of so many Labour MPs on the No to AV campaign shows the party is deeply divided on electoral reform. Miliband will be campaigning for a yes vote after writing the Labour general election manifesto which pledged to hold a referendum on AV However opponents of electoral reform recently unveiled the names of 114 Labour MPs who will oppose Ed Miliband and campaign for a no vote in May’s referendum
The cross-party No to AV group hailed the support of almost half of the 253-strong Labour contingent in the Commons as a breakthrough.
Opponents argue that there is a very simple principle in politics and governments – whoever gets the most votes wins. So its fairly safe to conclude that its wrong that the person who came second or third can overtake the person with the most votes and be allowed to win because the second and third choices of the little parties are counted again. Imagine applying the same principle they argue at the Olympic Games, giving the gold medal to the person who came in third! AV treats someone’s fifth or sixth choice as having the same importance 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.
The debate is just beginning but it is hard to see it catching the imagination of the British public, important though it is. Polls suggest most are undecided, mainly because they don’t really get it. But it would be wrong to think at this stage that the anti-AV lobby has the upper hand. There is all to play for.