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.