23 April 2011

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

By Rupert Read

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: it can’t cope with a multi-Party system. We need to fix it: Ergo, it’s time for electoral reform. It’s time to vote Yes to fairer votes. It’s time to vote Yes2AV. AV [The ‘Alternative Vote’] is the change we need.

How is our current system ‘broken’? Because being able only to crudely put an ‘X’ in one box just doesn’t work when you have 3 or more serious candidates standing for election – as in virtually all elections nowadays we do. In the 1950s, 97% of people voted Labour or Conservative. That figure keeps dropping and dropping every year, with the presence on the scene of the LibDems but also the dramatic rise of new Parties such as the Green Party, UKIP, etc. . We need a system that allows you to list your 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, ‘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 the 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 many countries that use AV in their national elections: Australia, India, Ireland, Papua New Guinea, etc. AV is a modern system, an improvement on the antiquated, outdated FirstPastThePost system we currently have.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 FirstPastThePost, 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! Because it is just far too crude. Because it’s just silly. 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, a Goebbelsian big 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 their Councillors. For 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.

…But if you want Nick Griffin to wake up with a big smile on May 6th, then vote NO...

AV would have saved us from Thatcher. AV would have kept us safe from values that weren’t really ours. If we bring AV in, it will safeguard us now against the BNP.

2) ‘To hurt the LibDems, vote NO’.
The NOtoAV campaign, understandably (given that they seem to have no constructive arguments at all to offer) 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 there’s another reason, less obvious, why it’s wrong, and it’s this: Nick Clegg's Party will not benefit from AV. Under AV, you can give your first preference to whoever you want to win. The LibDems might under AV gain votes in areas where they are weak, as they will no longer be perceived as a "wasted vote" in those areas. (A great thing about AV is that it abolishes the ‘wasted vote’ argument against voting for who you want – you can vote for who you really want, and give your 2nd preference to the lesser of three evils.) However, in some quarters the LibDems are now hated, so see my argument (1) above: AV will make it possible if you want to to put the LibDems bottom of your voting-order! Moreover, under AV the LibDems 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; gaining votes where you are weak does not ...Ironically, it simply isn’t true that AV will be good for 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; it represents real progress. This electoral reform is a change worth believing in – and so this referendum offers a once-in-a-generation opportunity to help revive British politics. Because 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 should be viewed as the proud legacy of the Suffragettes. AV is the natural next step forward for British democracy.

• 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. (Sadly, doing so would make Nick Griffin’s day . . .)

• But: If you think there's room for real improvement, if you want a democracy to be prouder of, if you want to help fairness and truth to triumph over foolishness and lies, then vote YES to electoral reform . . .

Poster from www.yes.greenwordsworkshop.org


  1. Although I totally agree with the arguments above for AV I am aware that a lot of the countries that do currently have AV are not happy with it and I haven't yet come across a sensible piece explaining why.
    Could anyone shed any light on this, as the No campaign are too embroiled in half truths to provide a sensible argument.

  2. I don't have any information on this Kerry, but I would say "who told you the countries that have AV are unhappy with it?". Was it the NO campaign...!?

    I do know that there are regular referenda in America to move from FPTP to AV in local elections. The tide is in favour of AV.