So, the First Past The Post (FPTP) system of choosing our political representatives is unfair. Isn’t it time we had a fairer system? I’ve always thought this and have been quite interested in electoral reform over the years, so I’ve recently started following developments of the Yes/No to AV referendum campaigns with some interest.
Surely the proposed system is fairer and more representative than the old system under which governments and candidates can be elected with a minority of votes? Well, that’s what I’d thought until my nearest and dearest explained the proposed system to me in some detail.
Now in my constituency, the candidate of one party does receive 50% of the vote, so would have been elected under the proposed AV system anyway. It wouldn’t change anything at all. As it stands, whichever candidate I vote for, enough other people vote for that one sitting MP, so my vote counts for little. You’d expect me to be in favour of a system where my vote counts and I am. But the proposed new AV system doesn’t look like it is the one.
You’ll have seen the information leaflets so I shan’t reiterate them here but essentially if no candidate reaches 50% share of the vote on the first round of counting, the candidate with the least votes is eliminated and the second choices of his or her voters are added to the tallies of the other candidates. This continues with the second and, if necessary, third and fourth choice of all the other least popular candidates until a winning candidate emerges with more than 50% of the vote.
My concern with this system as it is proposed is that the second choices of the voters who vote for the least popular candidates are re-counted first. In my part of the world, this would mean that the votes of the English Democrats, the Greens, the BNP and UKIP in that order, according to the results of last years’s election would have been counted first. To me, this means that, potentially, people who voted for nasty parties (the Greens excluded) would have their second choice of candidate counted first and thus would seem to have a disproportionate amount of influence over which candidate eventually nudges their support over the 50% line. This thought horrifies me. As I said, my constituency, Beckenham, is one of the safest Conservative seats in the country, so the Alternative Vote system would not even come into play. But in neighbouring Croydon Central, for example, the Conservative majority at the 2010 Election was less than 3,000 votes. The winning Conservative candidate received 39.5% of the vote so the AV system would have been used. The votes of two Independents, the Green, the Christian, the BNP, the Monster Raving Loony Party and UKIP candidates would have been used to decide the winner. To my mind this is absurd. There are plenty of marginal seats like this around and by their nature they tend to attract an array of fringe, silly and nasty candidates.
The Conservatives are against the AV reform, the Labour Party are apparently split and the LibDems are apparently the only Party wholeheartedly for AV. This is, of course, because they are the ones with the most to gain from any new system, assuming, of course, that people actually do want to vote for them now. Which is another story entirely.
How does this enhance democracy which is, after all, supposed to take into account the views of the majority of people? I think that, whilst the FTPT system is clearly flawed, this form of AV would be equally flawed. Why replace a flawed system with a flawed system? How can that be meaningful reform?
In my view, campaigning on both sides of this referendum has been low key and not really caught the public imagination. Both sides have produced, to my mind, bad videos which have peddled misinformation to a public which has neither the time nor the inclination to look at the issue in depth. The NoToAV campaign has employed scare tactics suggesting that the AV system will give the BNP more power and that people who have voted for fringe parties will have six votes. This is not true. The YesToAV campaign seems to see this referendum as an opportunity to bash the Government on policies ranging from the Cuts through increased tuition fees to NHS Reform. Some wonderfully photogenic actors and Slebs have been employed for this purpose. The Twitter campaigns have been full of ignorant and often incomprehensible vitriol directed at anyone who opposes rationally.
Now, I can see some people’s point that if one votes No on 5th May, the Prime Minister might take this as an affirmation that the country does not want change. This is a risk. But we cannot know what will happen in the future and if enough people are interested and raise concerns, the issue cannot be dropped conveniently. I cannot bring myself to vote for a system which might well be less fair and representative. I worry that most of those who do bother to vote on 5th May don’t know just what they are voting for.