Tuesday, 15 February 2011

What Price Democracy?

As you will probably know, in a little over two and a half months there will be a referendum as to whether the UK should move from the current system of "First Past the Post" for Westminster elections to the "Alternative Vote".

There are many good reasons to change. While it may be true that AV isn't the first choice for those who want a truly proportionally representative system, it has much to commend it.

The key difference is that it recognises that aside from their chosen candidate, people will have views on the other candidates - in other words, voting is not a binary activity.

By ranking candidates, those who wish to vote for a minority party can do so without feeling they have wasted their vote. If after the first round of votes no candidate has a majority of votes, then the second preference votes of the last place candidate are allocated to the remaining candidates. This process is completed until one candidate has over 50% of the vote.

The result is that, to win, a candidate can no longer rely on a core 30-40% of the electorate. He or she must convince more people of their merits as a prospective MP, even those who may not be inclined to vote for them as a first choice.

Candidates will have to work harder to be elected, MPs will have to work harder to retain their seats. AV isn't perfect but it will go a long way to tackling a "jobs for life" culture of safe seats and complacency. You can learn more about AV here on the "Yes to Fairer Votes" website.

Unlike the Yes campaign, which has been in place for some time and is, by and large, a grass-roots movement, the "No to AV" campaign was only formally launched today. Led and supported by a number of heavyweight political figures - Margaret Beckett, Lord Prescott, William Hague - I was interested to see its arguments in favour of First Past the Post...

Well, I would have been, except that the main argument seems to be that AV would be costly to implement - starting with the referendum - at a time when the country can ill afford it. Ah yes, the question of spending priorities... Why pay for D when A, B and C are so much more important? As is so often the case, though, the answer is that D has benefits which may not be easily quantifiable but are worthwhile none the less.

It's not without irony that some of the major Labour figures backing the No campaign - and the tactic of suggesting that the cost is too high - are amongst the most ardent of the deficit deniers...

So the campaigns have now commenced in earnest and your choice is between a positive change or passive acceptance of the status quo. Vote to make this choice the last binary choice so that at the next general election you can say who you would prefer to win... and who you would prefer if they don't.


1 comment:

Raybeard said...

I totally agree with you. If we don't change now then when? - certainly not in my lifetime and probably not in yours either. The argument that one party will probably never get an absolute majority seems spurious to me when all the governments which we do get are decided by a minority of the electorate anyway. Hardly any fairer.
I'm also sympathetic to voting being made compulsory too, as long as there's a 'none of the above' option - but that's for another day.