17 Apr 2011

AV: We need a yes vote

This last week I've been out canvassing - as an earlier blog noted I was  on the campaign trail  to elect Simon Pickering again. Well I've also been in Nailsworth to support two more excellent candidates for the Green party there - Catherine Farrell and Norman Kay....always enjoy going there as I used to live in the town and it all feels very wonderfully familiar - both have done lots for the town and their experience would be excellent to have on the District. See our Green election leaflets here.

Photo: Campaigning in Downend, Horsley

But this blog was going to be about AV - yes I've covered it before but came across this article by a Green colleague who wrote it for a national student magazine. It is worth a read as it exposes some of the myths that are being spread about AV. Click on read more to see it.

The case for electoral reform: Why to vote YES to fairer votes on May 5.

By Cllr Rupert Read, The Green Party

There’s a good old saying: If it ain't broke, don't fix it. But British politics is broken.

Our electoral system is unfit for purpose. It was designed for a two-party system, and it can’t cope with a multi-party system. We need to fix it, and it’s time for electoral reform. It’s time to vote Yes to fairer votes. It’s time to vote Yes2AV, since the Alternative Vote is the change we need.

How is our current system broken? Being able only to crudely put an ‘X’ in one box just doesn’t work when you have three or more serious candidates standing for election. In the 1950’s, 97% of people voted Labour or Conservative. That figure keeps dropping and dropping every year, with not just the Lib Dems, but the dramatic rise of new political parties, such as the Green Party and UKIP. We need a system that allows you to list your candidates by preferences, from 1 all the way down, so that you can vote for those who you support and against those who you oppose. AV is voting for who you really want to vote for, and being able to stop those you really don’t.

Our current system, called “first past the post,” means that you have to try to guess who is best-placed to win, and who you should vote for if you want to keep someone else out. The new proposed system, the “Alternative Vote” [AV] means that you simply list candidates in descending order of preference. AV really is as easy as 1, 2, 3.

That’s the core case for voting Yes, and joining the countries that use AV in their national elections, such as Australia, India, and Ireland. AV is a modern system, an improvement on the antiquated, outdated First Past The Post system we currently have.

Think about it this way: If you go into a pub, and your first choice drink isn’t available, do you just walk out again? Of course not – you ask for an alternative, your second choice. But under First Past The Post, you don’t get a second choice! FPTP means no second choices in the pub. Whereas AV means a second choice if your favourite drink isn't available! Thank God that we don’t use FPTP when ordering at the bar. And, for the same reason, we should stop using it for elections, too! FPTP is far too crude. Whereas AV is democracy – your choices – in action.

So: The case for voting YES is clear. What’s the case for voting NO? These are the two main lines I hear:

1) “AV is good for extremists”

This is simply a lie that right-wing newspapers and the Prime Minister, to their shame, are spreading in their desperation to stop electoral reform from winning the day. The truth is the very opposite of this lie. The truth is that AV is far worse than FPTP for extremists such as the BNP. Which is presumably why the BNP are vigorously opposing it. That’s right: Nick Griffin and his dreadful little-Englander party of racists are campaigning for a NO vote on May 5. Voting YES to AV -- a system in which voters can in effect work together to make life harder for unpopular, hated Parties -- will help ensure that the BNP never gets elected to Westminster. Moreover, if AV were introduced in local government elections, it would lead to the defeat of virtually all of the BNP’s councillors. Under AV, you need to get 50% of voters onside to win. The BNP hardly ever achieve that, because a majority of voters hate them. The BNP have only ever got one Councillor elected with 50% or more of the vote. Under AV, most people would put the BNP bottom of their preference list. AV would shut the door on the electoral prospects of the BNP. 

The other argument that I hear is:

2) “To hurt the LibDems, vote NO”

The NO campaign, understandably (given that they seem to have no constructive arguments at all) are trying to turn the AV referendum into a referendum on Nick Clegg. This is an unacceptably cynical way to treat a hugely important constitutional question.

But it’s also wrong. The Lib Dems will not necessarily benefit from AV. Under AV, you can give your first preference to whoever you want to win. The Lib Dems might gain under AV in areas where they are weak, as they will no longer be perceived as a "wasted vote" in those areas. But AV will also make it possible if you want to to put the Lib Dems bottom of your voting-order! Moreover, under AV, the Lib Dems will lose some first preference votes in areas where they are currently strong, as people will no longer be compelled to vote for them ‘tactically’ in order to cast a vote that is not "wasted." Losing votes where you are strong loses you seats, but gaining votes where you are weak does not. Ironically, it simply isn’t true that AV will be good for Nick Clegg’s party! AV is good news for democracy, but not good news for Nick Clegg.

To sum up: AV won’t heal everything about our political system. But it is a positive step, and it represents real progress. This electoral reform offers a once-in-a-generation opportunity to help revive British politics. Are you totally happy with British politics as it is? Do you think everything is going just great? If so, then you should vote NO to change on May 5.

AV is fairer. AV allows you to express your preferences, to vote for who you want to. That will help small parties such as the Greens. But at the same time, AV helps stop extremists (such as the BNP), by allowing you to place them bottom of your preference-ordering. AV is the natural next step forward for British democracy.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I just wanted to say that under AV, you don't have to put a preference for all the parties..You can just put a '1' by one of the parties if you want, and leave it at that, or just '1', and '2'....etc