So, what have we got at the moment? For Westminster elections our current way of electing our government is called First Past the Post. In every constituency, each MP is elected if they have the highest number of votes, the party with the most number of MP’s then form a government. Or as we witnessed last May when an overall majority is not reached, power sharing coalitions are formed.
I believe that this system is fundamentally flawed, mainly because it is almost completely undemocratic.
“Why?” I hear you ask “It’s a system that has served us for centuries…” The current system does not account for the percentage share of the vote to each party. Let us look at the General Election last year…
Of the total 650 seats available, the Conservatives won 306 (47% of the seats), Labour 258 (40%) and the Liberal Democrats 57 (9%). The remaining 29 seats were made up of other parties, independents and the Speaker of the House. The Tories have a clear majority, but not enough seats to form a Government. But let us dig a little deeper and look at the total votes:
Votes Cast: 29,691,780
Conservative: 10,703,754 (36.1% of the vote)
Labour: 8,609,527 (29%)
Liberal Democrat: 6,836,824 (23%)
Others: 3,541,675 (11.9%)
The disparity is clear to see. Almost a quarter of those who voted, voted for the Liberal Democrat party. They only received 9% of the total seats in Parliament, disenfranchising millions of voters in the process.
This process has meant that 2/3 of MP’s currently sitting in Westminster do not have majority support of their constituents. So the question has to be asked are you being represented effectively by your MP?
What is AV?
AV is a preferential voting system that means you rank your candidates according to preference. So if you have 5 candidates standing in your constituency you vote number 1 for your favourite and rank the rest in your order of preference. Although, you can just vote for 1 if you so choose. If a candidate achieves 50% of the vote they are elected, simple. If however, no one gets 50% of the vote, the candidate with the least amount of votes is eliminated, and their second votes are transferred as per people preferences. This continues until one candidate has 50% of the vote.
There are many detractors of AV, which is one of the reasons that I’ve been prompted to write this piece. I have recently seen some articles against AV that have been misrepresentations and downright lies. The most recent being Conservative Peer, Baroness Warsi you can read her views here:
Firstly, she suggests that AV “flies in the face” of a fundamental British principle of one person, one vote. This is simply not the case. AV means that the vote that you cast will count, even if your preference is not selected. As one commentator puts it “If you go to the chip shop, and order cod and chips but they are out of cod, and you choose pie and chips instead, you have still only had one meal.” It is a simplistic analogy, but one that feel works.
Secondly, she suggests that AV will some how give rise to fascism. This is a fallacy. How will AV increase the share of the BNP vote? They may still get the same share of the vote, but AV wont lead to an increase. If anything, AV protects us from groups such as the BNP as the candidate must have a majority of 50% to be elected. FPTP allows candidates to be elected without a majority, that is the real opportunity for the BNP and that is why they are urging voters not to vote for AV.
Then there have been the posters, sensationalising the cost of the AV system, suggesting that our troops wont get body armour as the money would have been spent on AV. What utter nonsense. Yes there will be an initial cost associated with AV in order to educate people on the system, but after that… “all you need for AV is a pencil.” There is a suggestion that we will buy counting machines to count the votes. Why? Other countries that use AV manage without them. Admittedly, it is a smaller scale, but I don’t believe a machine is used when counting votes to decide the Speaker of the House of Commons.
Detractors also tell us that AV will lead to an increase in hung Parliaments… ok… so we have a hung parliament now. We used FPTP. The UK has also had hung parliaments in the 20’s & the 70’s, using FPTP. Conversely, Australia in its last 38 elections has had only 1 hung Parliament. Using this same argument detractors say that AV is a method to ensure the Lib Dems are always the King Makers. Again nonsense. I would like to think that those people who don’t vote Lib Dem as a tactical decision living in geographical strongholds of another party, will have the opportunity to vote with their conscience, which is surely what democracy is all about? Also if this were genuinely the case why would the current leader of the opposition, Ed Milliband be campaigning for it?
AV is not a magic bullet and will not solve all of our problems in one fell swoop. What it will mean is though, is that no MP can be elected with less than 50% of the total vote in their constituency, as can happen now. AV increases the democratic position of every eligible voter in the UK.
On 5th May 2011, I urge you to vote in favour of democracy, and vote for electoral reform. This chance will not come around again in our generation.
Quotes used have come from the yes to fairer votes web page that can be found here: http://www.yestofairervotes.org/