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Is this Democracy? A Pro-AV Argument

Friday 29 April 2011, 20:58
By Peter Roberts

[Editor: The debate on electoral reform warrants thorough discussion by both supporters and opponents of the Alternative Vote system. We look forward to reading your comments if you agree with Peter, but we also invite anyone with an alternative view to comment on this, or one of the other related articles we've published, listed below:]

- Pro-AV article by David Heath, published first in the Western Gazette
- Anti-AV article by Nick Colbert

That pro-AV logo you see all over the placeAt present Members of Parliament (MPs) are elected by the First Past the Post (FPTP) system. This gives very little representation to the third of voters who support policies other than those espoused by the two big Parties - Labour and Conservative.

FPTP was designed for the period when there were only two Parties. It is now outdated and takes no account of how our population has changed in the last seven decades. Now, with a wide range of new environmental and cultural issues confronting us, a third of our electorate is choosing to vote for the other Parties. This diversity has increased from 15% in 1950 to 38% in 2005 and the percentage of non-voters has increased massively from 8% in 1935 to 32% in 2005.

Under FPTP two thirds of MPs are elected with the support of only a minority of the voters in their Constituencies, many with less than a third of the votes cast. And it is a fact that since 1935 no Government has ever won the support of a majority of the electorate.

FPTP produces Governments supported by very small percentages of the population. For example in 2005 Labour won 9.6 million votes, which is a mere 21.6% of the 44.4 million entitled to vote. This gave them 55% of the seats in Parliament.

FPTP has created two regional blocks with Labour dominating in the North and the Conservatives in the South. The majority of these Constituencies have become "safe" seats where the incumbent MPs are repeatedly re-elected, giving them a job for life. The other main Party and the Minorities have virtually no chance of being represented in these regions. As a result a few hundred thousand voters in a handful of marginal seats determine who forms the Government of this country.

FPTP gives so little real choice to the electors, yearning to vote for their real preferences, that they have to vote tactically just to keep the other side out, or choose not to vote.

FPTP makes it much more likely that extremist Parties, such as BNP, will be elected than with a Proportional System like AV.

FPTP is incredibly wasteful as the two major Parties take turns switching from Right to Left and back again every few years and immediately undoing what their predecessor did. With more proportional electoral systems Governments have to compromise and generally steer towards the middle ground with only minor deviations to the extremes of Left and Right. A position enjoyed by most European Countries.

Proportional Systems

There are many variations of Proportional voting systems that are already used in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. They are also used in 29 countries in Europe, in Chile, Japan, South Korea, New Zealand, Australia and others. The Alternative Vote (AV) is one such system. It is already widely used in the UK to select Party Leaders, the London Mayor, by many Unions, the Commons Speaker, and Chairmen of Select Committees, where there is a need to ensure that the elected have broad support and not just the choice of a minority.

Voting with AV is very simple. Instead of putting an "X" against your preferred candidate you have the option of selecting some or all candidates in order of preference by placing a "1", "2", "3", "4" etc on the ballot paper. Voters can declare as many or as few preferences as they wish. This ensures that should you not get your first choice at least your other preferences are taken into account in selecting the final winner who achieves a majority support.

With AV you have the same Constituency boundaries as for FPTP so you have the same link with your Constituency MP.

AV produces fairer and more proportional representation of the electorate within Parliament.

AV may well produce Coalitions, which will help to ensure both sides of any policy are fully appraised before being foisted on to the nation. Remember the folly of the Poll Tax?

Coalitions are about compromise, which most of us use in our business and family lives. It is how we get along with other people and determine our priorities. None of us has the only answer to the problems confronting our multi-cultural society in this incredibly complex world. So applying it to how we govern ourselves must surely be more sensible than being swung hard one way or then the other.

The stability of a Government depends on winning a wide measure of popular support. This is very much more likely if the Government represents a broad range of interests. In contrast, FPTP tends to be more divisive and promote disunity rather than unity.

Across the world we are held up as an example of democracy, when in fact we have the most under-represented electoral system of all. The need for electoral reform is long overdue.

AV will provide a great step forward as our people will be able to vote for, and win representation for the MPs and the policies they want.

This referendum really matters. It could be the last opportunity we will have for decades to change our unfair electoral system.

So VOTE YES for AV on Thursday May 5th 2011.


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