On May 5th here in this country there is going to be a nationwide referendum on the voting system for UK Parliamentary Elections. We are going to be voting on whether to change the system from the current system known as First Past The Post to a new system which been christened AV (for Alternative Vote, but I am sure it will be rechristened if it becomes our new system).
There has been a lot of talk from various sides for and against, to the point now where I cannot decide. So many people are undecided. I am sure that it doesn't help that our coalition leaders are divided on the topic. Nick Clegg, deputy PM and LibDem leader, wants it. David Cameron, the PM and Tory leader, does not. As for me, I am really challenged on this, not least because I am not happy with either system and would much rather see Proportional Representation get a shot. But that will probably never happen in Parliamentary Elections because it's, ahem, a bit too fair, lets a lot of minor parties have a better chance and basically scares the livin' willies out of the Tories.
What is AV?
The Alternative Vote (AV) is very much like First-Past-the-Post (FPTP). Like FPTP, it is used to elect representatives for single-member constituencies, except that rather than simply marking one solitary 'X' on the ballot paper, the voter has the chance to rank the candidates on offer.
The voter thus puts a '1' by their first-preference candidate, and can continue, if they wish, to put a '2' by their second-preference, and so on, until they don't care anymore or they run out of names. In some AV elections, such as most Australian elections, electors are required to rank all candidates.
If a candidate receives a majority of first-preference votes (more people put them as number one than all the rest combined), then they are elected.
If no candidate gains a majority on first preferences, then the second-preference votes of the candidate who finished last on the first count are redistributed. This process is repeated until someone gets over 50 per cent.
So what's the problem with this? Well, if you vote for a party and that party gets the majority, then your second and third choices will not be counted. But if your first choice is for a minority party such as The Green Party or BNP, and of course they don't get the majority, then your second and third choices DO get counted until someone reaches 50% of the vote. Some people (like the Tories) don't like this idea because it means that it gives lesser parties a chance. In some respects I can see this side of the argument. No rational person could possibly want to see the racist BNP in power. But at least it is slightly less unfair than the current system, First Past The Post.
What is FPTP?
FPTP, put in as simple terms as I can, means that voters vote for candidates in their constituencies by putting an X net to the name of the candidate they would like to have as their local MP. Once an MP is elected for that seat, all the other votes in that constituency count for nothing. In other words, if you voted for a Labour candidate and the Tory candidate won that seat, your vote would not count towards anything else. An example, you say? In the 1997 election, the victorious Labour Party gained 43.2% of the total votes cast and won 63.6% of seats at Westminster. The combined number of votes for the Tory and Liberal Democrats represented 47.5% of the total votes (nearly 4% more than Labour) yet between them they got 32.1% of the seats available at Westminster.
In the 2001 election, Labour got 43% of the total popular vote whereas all the other parties got 57% - yet Labour maintained its very powerful position in Parliament with 413 MP's out of 659. The same trend was seen with the 2005 election result.
It can be claimed that such a percentage of votes should not have given Labour such large Parliamentary majorities – but the workings of the FPTP system allows for just such an occurrence. In fact, no government since 1935 has had a majority of public support as expressed through votes cast at a national election.
In Proportional Representation each vote would count towards a national total. The party with the majority would be in power, and each party would then be given an appropriate number of seats in the House of Commons. But this system is seen as somewhat 'fringe' and 'loony'. Like most things that sound like logical common sense to me.
I'll be voting for AV come the 5th if only to get rid of FPTP. It won't be my first choice, but my first choice isn't even on the ballot.
I think the best idea would be to do what the Aussies do and fine people who don't vote. Hit all these people who don't believe they can make a difference where it truly hurts - the wallet. And then use the fines to finance our national deficit. Oh, and here's an idea whose time has come - the Robin Hood Tax.