Tuesday, 12 April 2011

It’s time to vote Yes to fairer votes.

(I’ve stolen and hijacked this from Rupert Read of Norwich Greens and given it a shine :) )

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, not with 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,” (FPTP) 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 AV is a modern system, an improvement on the antiquated, outdated First Past The Post system we currently have.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 choice in the pub! But AV means a second choice if your favourite drink isn’t available – or even if it is but you fancy something different! Thank God that we don’t use FPTP when ordering at the bar!

For the same reason, we should stop using it for elections, too! FPTP is far too crude. But AV means greater democracy – it reflects your choices – plural - in the actual vote.

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 opposite:

AV is a far worse deal for extremists such as the BNP, than FPTP. 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 BNP councillors anywhere.

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% plus of the vote. Under AV, most people wouldn’t even include the BNP in their 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, AV won’t actually be particularly 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, maybe you should vote NO to change on May 5.

AV is fairer. AV allows you to express your preferences and to vote for who you really 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 preferences. AV is the natural next step forward for British democracy.

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