Thursday, February 17, 2011

The AV referendum - the stakes have never been higher!

We are currently preparing our local campaign to promote the Yes vote in the upcoming Alternative Vote (AV) referendum and hoping to counter the apathy and negatively that the No side are attempting to foster.

There is no doubt that our electoral system is woefully out of date. It was designed for a two party system – and there has never been any change because the two parties have both done very well of it.

But in last year’s general election, over a third of the vote went to other parties. There are now ten political parties represented in parliament, and three others outside who got a sizeable vote. Our system desperately needs updating to cater for the people’s wishes.

AV is not the final answer – it is not proportional and doesn’t get rid of safe seats, although it does reduce their number. However it is not as bad as First Past the Post (FPTP) and has some advantages (see below). It also opens the door to other systems.

There are some, including many Lib Dems, who say they will vote no to AV because they support proportional representation or other systems. But this makes no sense. If FPTP wins the referendum then that’s it, the end of the debate – we’ll be stuck with the system for 30 years or so – and a very large chunk of the electorate will remain disenfranchised and resentment of politics will continue to increase.

We badly need a system that connects the people with their representatives so they feel their vote makes a difference – and for now voting Yes to AV is the best option.

Those who love a good political debate must be disappointed at the antics of the No2AV camp. They could campaign for, defend and argue the merits of FPTP and ask the public to back their case. Instead they have resorted to negative spoiling tactics such as attempting to sabotage the referendum in the Lords, making claims about the cost of AV which have quickly unravelled, and focusing on Nick Clegg. Whatever you think about Cameron, Clegg and co, politicians come and go very quickly (remember Gordon Brown?) – it is the system itself that must be looked at.

The Yes camp is leading in the polls at the moment but must not be complacent. The establishment and the mass media are all on the No side – they hate the idea of letting ‘people’ having more power instead of keeping it with the political classes – so the Yes people must keep getting the message out there.

So why is AV an improvement on FPTP? I will use three main reasons.

1. Every MP can stand up in parliament and say ‘I have the support of the majority of voters in my constituency.’ Presently only about a third can say that. Under the current system, with more and more candidates, it is quite possible to get elected with around 20%. (This is why the BNP support FPTP).

2. Under FPTP, voters tend to be negative. We heard last year ‘I will be voting Conservative to get the government out ‘ or ‘I’m voting Labour to keep the Tories out’. People are not voting for who they want – they are voting for who they don’t want! AV allows you to vote positively – this is my first choice, this is my second etc.

3. Above all, for the first time in our history, a majority of the voters can say ‘my vote counted!’ Presently most voters are wasted, they needn’t have bothered turning up (and many don’t). But if votes were thought to make a difference we would see an improvement in turnout.

AV puts more power in the hands of the voter and away from the politicians. It reduces the numbers of safe seats, making the candidates work harder and become more accountable. If FPTP wins then most MPs can continue to sit happily in their safe seats for as long as they wish.

Hopefully AV will win the day, we can then extend fairer voting systems to council elections in England and Wales (Scotland already have) and FPTP will finally be finished.

The stakes are that high! If AV does not win, then it will be final. Nothing will change! Ever!

1 comment:

  1. What every MP can actually stand up and say is "I am the least despised candidate in my constituency." That's something, I suppose.