So this is it, the day has finally arrived where the nation goes to the polls in order to decide on the future of the election system for general elections in the UK.
The opinion polls suggest that the no vote has had a massive surge in popularity over the last 2 weeks. My own personal experience of meeting people and having watched debates in the media seem to back this up.
Several moments over the last few days have almost driven me to throw valuable items at the TV screen when hearing them repeating in verbatim the no campaign. Watching the Young Persons Question Time on BBC3 a few nights ago was a very depressing experience. Many people seemingly repeating adverts they had seen in the no campaign.
“some people have more than one vote” - not true
“It will cost £250 million extra than FPTP” – not true
“It will produce hung parliaments all the time” – not true
If you would like to see how the system of AV works, please see here, this is not a propaganda piece for the YES or NO campaign but a straight forward explanation by Jeremy Vine on the BBC.
It has been a sad campaign where the negative campaigning has by far outweighed the effectiveness of the positive. This referendum was more about fear than about electoral systems. The Yes campaign became more vociferous towards the end, but appears to have been too little too late. We can only hope that the polls are wrong, and some element of sanity prevails.
Yesterday an excellent article was written by the FactCheck team for Channel 4 investigating the claims that David Cameron and others have stated bout AV, ” It’s a system so obscure that it is only used by three countries in the whole world – Australia, Fiji and Papua New Guinea. Our system in contrast is used by half the world.”
The results of this analysis show that of the 50 countries who use FPTP, 41 were ex-colonies or overseas territories of Britain. So we directly gave it to them or imposed it on them. The USA is a strictly 2 party system, and is designed to prevent pluralism and influence of smaller parties, while India accounts for 1.2 billion people in this calculation, who was a previous colony.
On the other hand, the ONLY country to use FPTP in the EU, is the UK. In terms of the amount of democratic countries, the most popular system of voting is actually List Proportional Representation or List PR., with 71 countries.
William Hague has said that it would be “unbritish” to change from FPTP. It seems he is correct as we exported it to the world. However, any new democracy that has sprung up in the past 20 years, has not used FPTP.
We must also consider how our system has developed. From the top down, based on nepotism and patronage only allowing a wider franchise when the powers that be were forced to do so, or it was in the interests of particular political parties.
Meanwhile the Economist Intelligence Unit’s Democracy Index 2010, showing just how democratic and accountable countries are shows that out of the top 25 countries, the UK only comes 19th on that list, and of the top 10, 7 do not use FPTP.
By the logic of David Cameron and others, if we are to just do what other countries do traditionally, then democracies would never progress, they would remain stagnant. Not only that, the most populous system is dictatorship with 2.5 billion people on the planet subjected to it, should we then adopt this system?
In the 2005 general election, a minority of 35.6% had a majority in the House of commons, able to enforce their will on the rest of the population. In the last election, the Conservative party got 37% of the vote. If the constituency boundaries were a little more equal, as they will be at the next election, they would have had a working majority again.
The share of the vote of the party that wins FPTP elections in this country is progressively obtaining less approval over time, yet still obtaining unlimited power through the party system in the House of Commons.
The democratic deficit in this country needs to change.
Debunking Myths about AV
“some people have more than one vote” - not true
This is not true. The way AV works is that if no one candidate gets more than 50% of the vote (ie.) a majority; then the party with the lowest vote is eliminated and there vote is transferred to another candidate of there choice. This is expressed by the 2nd preferential vote. All the votes are then counted again and so on until someone has the approval of more than 50% of the vote.
In each ballot round all votes are counted again. No one has more than one vote in each ballot. This is a way of ensuring that the candidate who wins has an approval of a majority rather than a minority of the constituency.
It must also be stated that if you wish to just vote for one candidate, like for FPTP, then you are free to do this, it is YOUR CHOICE.
This also ensures that small extremist parties do not get power, as they have a very narrow base of support. This is why the BNP and the Communist party are campaigning for a NO vote.
“It will cost £250 million extra than FPTP” – not true
This is simply untrue. The analysis carried out by the government has not allowed for any extra costs associated with AV. The only extra cost of the system is that some counts will take longer. However, ballot counters are not paid by the hour, so the actual increase in cost would be small if at all. No counting machines are required so the reference to counting machines is a complete red herring.
“It will produce ,hung parliaments all the time” – not true
Australia has had 2 Hung Parliaments in the last 90 years, the UK has had 5, in addition to governments that have not had a working majority. Australia use AV.
The full extent of exactly how AV would affect the UK vote is not fully known because there may well be a higher turn out as people may feel that because their vote is more likely to count, then more people would vote. In addition, people could freely vote for the candidate they WANT, without feeling they have to vote for the candidate they least dislike. Because if the candidate they vote for is eliminated, they can transfer that vote to a candidate who is still in the ballot.
Confusion of the AV debate
The politics of fear that has taken over in this country over the past few years due to economic uncertain times and the rhetoric of political parties has substantially affected the AV debate.
Many have mixed up within their minds the idea of “coalitions like this one”, the “electoral system” and “poor government”.
If you do not like this particular Tory/LibDem government, this is NOT because it is a coalition. There are many coalitions in the EU, the German economy has consistently out performed the UK yet has coalition governments. Good government or bad government is not simply because of the electoral system, but of the calibre of politician. However, the representative nature of the political system is created by the electoral system.
If you consider the Clegg factor, or the woeful policies of this government it is not because of a coalition but rather their CHOICE to lie to the public or u-turn on policies. Their political choice. The article here explains this more fully. In short there is nothing in the governments actions that was brought about simply because of coalition compromise.
I have heard people say they believe in AV but that they want to “teach Nick Clegg a lesson”. This is a nonsense view to have. The choice we make today is about the future of democracy in this country, not about individual political parties.
An Argument For AV
Lets be clear, the AV system is not a panacea. It will not get rid of all ills within our political system. All it will do is give a small improvement on FPTP.
It is likely to improve voter turn out
It will mean that politicians will HAVE to reach out to a broader section of society rather than their core vote
Fewer Safe seats
Every MP will have to get more than 50% of the vote, an actual MAJORITY, whereas at the moment 60% of seats have less than 50%
It retains the one MP to One constituency link
It is unlikely to massively change the outcome of elections, but allow smaller parties with BROAD SUPPORT to get a larger representation
It will ensure extremist parties do not get any more representation than they do now
AV use in the world
AV is currently used by about 29 million people in the world in 3 countries - Australia, PNG and Fiji. However versions of AV are used in over 60 countries in the world to either elect their President, Prime Minister, or parliament with the run-off system.
This system rather than having candidates listed in preference, if a candidate does not have 50% of the vote, the last candidate is eliminated and a new ballot is taken, that is a whole new vote, and this continues until someone has more than 50% of the vote. Many systems ensure only two rounds are required.
This is a more expensive and long winded version of the AV system we are being asked to vote on, but very similar, with a very similar outcome.
Versions of AV are also used to elect ALL the leaders of the main political parties; the London Mayoral election; the election of the speaker of the House of Commons; Trade Unions; businesses use it and charities.
Lets be clear, the people who are most vociferous in their opposition to AV are people who do not believe in a wide democratic franchise. The Conservative party has always seen itself as having a “right to govern”, and with FPTP they have an unfair advantage and can cling on to a disproportionate amount of power with an ever dwindling share of the vote.
The old guard of the Labour party also want to keep FPTP for a similar reason. People in the House of Lords like Dr Robert Winston also takes this view and represents an unelected chamber, that is against all principles of democracy. He has also repeated many of the myths listed above. A discussion of this can be seen here.
The AV system is NOT the best system available, BUT it is the BEST system on offer. It will not radically change our voting system and will not radically change the outcome of elections. There will be a slight increase in the fairness of the system as a whole and make MP’s work a bit harder at election time to reach out beyond their core vote.
Some say that it is Nick Clegg who has put this to the country – this is about as far from the truth as you could get. It is those WITH the power that has put this to the country which is why they have put a system as close to the FPTP system as possible.
Nick Clegg would have wanted to put a Proportional System of voting to the country, which would be the best and fairest system. But Gordon Brown and David Cameron would not allow the public to decide on this for fear of losing their grip on power.
If anything, this proposal has been put to the country by David Cameron and not Nick Clegg.
We must think of the future, and not party political posturing when deciding on this referendum. This is likely to be the only time in my lifetime that we are asked what political system we want. If we vote no, it is likely that the democratic deficit in this country will continue unabated.
Our constitution moves very slowly, the UK tradition is based on very small evolutionary steps. This is one of them, and if we do not take it, we will not have another opportunity for at least a generation.