Friday, 1 April 2011

My view on AV

On Thursday 5th May, there will be a referendum on a new voting system for parliamentary elections and I will be voting YES.

The proposal means that instead of placing a single cross on the ballot paper, the Alternative Vote (AV) would allow electors to rank candidates (1, 2, 3 …) in order of preference. If no candidate achieves 50% of preferences on the first count, the other preferences of losing candidates are taken into account.

Like many people, I am extremely angry at the manner in which the Government has linked the provision of this referendum to a reduction in the number of constituencies, which will lead to at least one cross-Tamar Devonwall constituency. I know of people who may vote No as a protest against the Government because of this. But I hope they do not because, whatever happens on 5th May, there will be a Devonwall seat at the 2015 General Election, unless there is a Government u-turn.

I say this because it is my strong view that the present First Past the Post system does not work as part of a 21st century democracy. I fully support a more proportional voting system (PR) and recognise that AV is not PR, but I do see this reform as a step in the right direction. At the present time across the UK, the vast majority of parliamentary constituencies are safe seats and the main political parties pour disproportionate resources into a small number of marginal seats.

Taking the St Austell and Newquay seat as an example, in the four months leading up to Polling Day last year, the Liberal Democrats spent £33,852 and the Conservatives £40,968 (figures from returns to the Electoral Commission). This was on top of the tens of thousands of pounds spent by both parties in the preceding two years.

By contrast, in the perceived “safe” Labour-held seats of Wolverhampton SE and Islwyn in South Wales, the Tories spent £3,785 and £923 respectively. In the same seats, the Liberal Democrats only spent £370 and £589. I do not think that this disparity in spending and associated campaign activity is healthy for a democracy.

Politics is also becoming increasingly pluralistic with more and more political parties entering the fray, but the electoral system has not caught up. In modern parliamentary contests, as I know from experience, great pressure is brought to bear on people to vote tactically to stop certain political parties from winning. I feel that this distorts political debate and often derails serious consideration of the issues that really matter to communities throughout the UK. AV will eliminate tactical voting, allowing voters to always support their first-choice candidate.

I think this is right – people should be encouraged to vote positively for the party or the person they believe in. I believe that this represents positive reform and progress, and I hope that you will also consider voting YES in the referendum in a month’s time.


Anonymous said...

Dick, can you explain how AV will benefit MK in terms of actually getting people elected? From where I sit, it seems to guarantee perpetual LibDemmery here in Kernow. OK, marginally more people will be tempted to put MK as a first preference, but I really don't see any ultimate benefits beyond that.

It also seems to be a false premise to say that if we get AV now, it's the first breach in the wall. It's not as though we'll getting a referendum on STV in AV wins. Aren't we better off voting no and making the case for STV? Clegg - for a change - got it right when he called AV a 'miserable little compromise'.

jon & sandra's camper said...

I like you recognise that AV is not PR - but it is a step in that direction.
To reject AV will only guarantee the continued use of First Past the Post.
To reject AV will not, as far as Parliament is concerned, reopen the DEVONWALL question.
As for who will benefit - who can forecast how people will vote when their votes may still count. Many people say they would vote MK, but do not want to waste a vote, under AV that vote will not automatically be wasted.
I am starting to get a horrible suspicion that the NO VOTE campaign have infiltrated Cornish Nationalism.
Finally why is MK the only party of the Celtic Fringe not signed up as a supporter of the Yes to Fairer Votes Campain? SNP and Plaid Cymru have expressed their support MK is notable by its absence.

Jon Hayworth

Dick Cole said...

Hello Posh

In terms of whether AV benefits MK, I consider that the proposed new system is better than first-past-the-post in that it cuts down on tactical voting. I do not know to what degree this may benefit MK in the short-term, but the change must help deliver a more pluralistic and more nuanced system.

I have stood in parliamentary elections and know from personal experience that the whole process is devalued by the large parties spending more time arging "vote X to stop Y" than debating issues. I can recollect too many examples of people not voting MK, Green or Labour because of this pressure, some of whom were even fervent supporters of smaller parties.

It is also my view that a slight improvement or step in the right direction would be more likley to lead to greater reforms in the future - just as the 'weak' Welsh Assembly set up in 1999 will have law-making powers after the May elections.

And hello Jon

MK has publicly stated that it supports a YES vote and I made this clear as an individual through my column in the Cornish Guardian.

The NO campaign has not infiltrated Cornish nationalism. But there is palpable anger that the legislation for the referendum is linked to the creation of a Devonwall seat. I, and MK, will continue to do all that we can argue against cross-Tamar seats.

You also mention Plaid and the SNP - I think it is fair to say that my support for the campaign has been greater than that of Alec Salmond, for example, - as shown on last week's Question Time.

Best wishes

Dick Cole

Bob Hayes said...

Hi Dick. I must admit I've been having second thoughts lately, same reasons as Posh. I've got an uncomfortable feeling that it will do nothing to shake the big three that can't be done more readily under FPTP. As to being a step towards PR, I don't know about that either, once AV has delivered the Lib Dems success in their first and only policy - that they should get some power! In any event, I'm struggling to conceive of a method of working PR that would not screw the chances of any candidate standing on a local issue. Bob

Unknown said...

I agree completely with Dick. If the referendum were truly democratic then it would have given people the additional choice of PR. As it hasn't we're facing a simple choice between FPTP and AV. Don't think that a no vote or abstention will encourage politicians to give people a choice of PR in the future. If the referendum fails it will be pointed to for generations to come as a reason to keep FPTP. That's why I believe that the referendum is a choice between stagnancy and reform. And that's why the Democratic Reform Party is backing a yes vote.

As Dick suggests, this is more about principles and what's best for the country, rather than what party it benefits. Simply put, AV is more democratic. But if democracy is strengthened, in whatever measure that may be, people will have more of a chance to vote new and smaller parties into power, and hence to not only strengthen democracy but also the call for reform.

See the following for more detail: