AV or Not AV: AV

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This May the country partakes in a ground-breaking referendum on voting reform.

The No 2 AV article can be found here.

Q: What’s wrong with what we have at the moment?

A: To see what’s wrong with FPTP, look no further than what happened in the 2005 election. Despite only 35 per cent of those who voted choosing Labour, they were nevertheless re-elected and formed a large majority in Parliament. They stayed in power for the next five years, making decisions that affected the entire country. In a representative democracy that prides itself on being one of the best in the world, this does not seem especially representative or democratic.

Q: So why have we stuck with FPTP all this time?

A: FPTP is an excellent system when you have two parties contesting a position, and this is why it has proliferated for so long. In the 1950s 95 per cent of voters chose either Conservative or Labour, and therefore FPTP was easily the best way of creating a government which reflected the will of the people. However, compare this to the election last year, where only 65 per cent of voters chose one of the two main parties. It’s clear that there is a growing movement away from the two dominant parties, and a dawning realisation that we need a voting system that reflects this.

Q: If this is the case, why haven’t we switched to AV sooner?

A: Unfortunately in our democracy, there is a number of what are innocently called “safe seats”. If there is a change to AV, this should result in a decrease in the number of “safe” seats, and therefore means that ruling parties are disinclined to give up this advantage. Because of this, at the last election, people’s votes in certain areas were calculated as being almost meaningless. If they lived in a so-called “safe seat” then their vote would not come anywhere near swaying a decision, and therefore would have no impact at all in general elections.

Q: Does this mean that voting for AV is like voting for the minority parties?

A: No. Under AV, every vote will count. This doesn’t mean a boost for any particular party. It will benefit certain parties in some seats, but perhaps slash their majority in others. It will create a fairer, more representative political landscape which will perhaps entice back disaffected voters. MP’s are frequently criticised for not engaging enough with their whole local constituency. Under AV MP’s would need the support of the majority of their constituents and would therefore be much more likely to engage in their whole constituency.

Q: Would it put an end to tactical voting?

A: Yes. Under AV Voters can vote for the party they genuinely support, and there would be no snide pre-election slogans such as: “A vote for X is a wasted vote”. Comments such as this seemed to imply an unpleasant assumption that government should always rest in the hands of the two dominant parties, with no scope for change. Contrary to what many people against AV claim, the system does not give those voting for a minority party an extra vote. It gives them a transferrable vote, ie once a party they voted for is eliminated, they can transfer it to the party which they believe will be next best at representing them.

Q: So if it would improve our political system so much, why don’t the Conservatives support AV?

A: Well actually they do. If we examine the Conservative leadership campaign in 2005, we see that they do not even use a FPTP system there, because they rightly recognise within their party that when there are more than two possible candidates, it just isn’t representative or fair. After the first round of voting, David Cameron was actually in second place having received 28.3% of the vote, whereas David Davis received 31.3%. However after Ken Clarke, who received the least votes, was eliminated this meant David Cameron leapfrogged over David Davis and claimed the Conservative Party leadership, despite initially being voters’ second choice in a FPTP system. David Cameron said recently When it comes to our democracy, Britain shouldn’t have to settle for anyone’s second choice”. Bearing in mind how he was elected to the Conservative Party leadership, this seems fairly hypocritical.

Q: But it’s expensive. Can we afford it?

A: Yes we can afford it. The ‘No’ team claim the following expenses will mean AV costs nearly £250m:

–          £82m on the referendum

–          £9m on educating voters before the referendum

–          £130m on electronic counting machines

–          £26m on further educating voters after the referendum.

This is a horrible exaggeration. Even if AV triumphs there are no government plans to purchase any electronic counting machines. They are deemed pointless by countries that currently use AV and would be a stupid and unnecessary purchase by any government. Most of the other costs are comprised of just having a referendum in the first place. This leaves £26 million as the only speculated cost of a yes vote, around one tenth of what was initially claimed.  To put it into perspective: HMS Astute comes in at a cost of £1.2bn, a submarine which went aground off the coast of Skye last year, and has proved to be embarrassing and controversial.

Q: So what can I do?

A: Choose your vote in the referendum based on the facts. Please don’t be someone who votes merely to spite a particular party. This referendum is bigger than any one party. It is about the entire political landscape in the UK and ensuring our democracy looks to the future.

Politics needs to evolve with changes in society, and if this country retains a system of FPTP it can only lead to a political system mired in the past. We need a system which reflects our ever-changing society and evolving political attitudes. We need to seize this opportunity to improve our voting system, and make sure that every individual voice matters.

 

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Discussion5 Comments

  1. avatar

    Do you agree AV values the votes of BNP supporters and Communists over the votes of people who aren’t as extreme minded? E.g. Someone votes for the BNP, they (very likely) are knocked out in the first round of voting and that person effectively has a second vote. Whereas a Conservative or Labour voter still only has one vote…

    Chloe
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    Dhanesh – how can you possibly insinuate that one person’s vote should be valued higher than someone else’s? Personally, I think people who vote BNP are crazy but it’s their democratic right to vote that way – my (potentially) liberal vote isn’t ‘worth’ more because it’s less ‘extreme’.
    And what does ‘extreme’ mean anyway? I’d say some of the things the Tories are currently doing are pretty ‘extreme’.
    And in AV everyone has ONE vote, it’s just one vote in preference, no voter gets logged more than once. And even by your logic, everyone would “effectively have a second vote”, not just BNP supporters. Moot point.

    Chris Shimwell
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    Hi Dhanesh, as I say in the article – I don’t believe that AV values any votes over others, whether extreme or otherwise. AV isn’t giving anyone a second vote. If someone’s first choice party is knocked out, then that original vote no longer counts for anything and they can still take that one vote and give it to their second choice party. It is one vote, which they can transfer to another party if their first choice is eliminated.

    Ryan Whitlock
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    Gonna have to say i agree with Dhanesh- on the surface it appears that there is an incentive to vote for fringe parties in order to maximise the utility of your vote, which whilst single, carries extra weight when it is transferred once, twice or more. It is certainly a system that will produce change, but it’s hard to imagine what that change might be. I have a few questions: Do parties/candidates get notified of how many votes they received at each tier? If somebody’s first preference isnt successful and they dont put down multiple candidates their vote is still wasted as it would be under fptp. Would you say AV seems to favour those who are less choosy and more open to compromise?

    Chris Shimwell
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    Hey Ryan,

    I would say that it’s hard to predict whether people would change their voting preferences based on AV, although it does mean that they can feel comfortable voting for their first choice party. I would say that if people were die-hard supporters of a political party, I don’t think they’d change their voting preferences just because they suddenly had a transferable vote. I think that although a vote which is 4th choice could carry more weight if it helps push one party over the 50% threshold, this doesn’t necessarily mean its a bad thing if it encourages people to look at all the parties and truly rank them in terms of preference, and also encourages the MP to try and engage with the entire constituency, not just their hardcore of supporters.

    Regarding your questions, I’m pretty sure the final result is broken down to show just how it was formed, so the parties would be aware how many votes they received at each tier. Also, I’m aware that some people would only vote for one party still and refuse to consider others, however after consideration I do think that most people would choose to rank, if only to hinder a rival party who they truly object to!

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