The campaign’s for YES and NO in the referendum on our voting system officially started on Friday 18th February, just a few days ago, but in reality both sides have been setting out their stall for a while now.
I have been compelled to write this post as a result of being accused by Tom Harris MP of producing “insults and smears” in my post NO2AV Campaign: Lies, damn lies and dinosaurs.
Anyone looking at the yes and no campaigns can see how they have begun. The No’s have kicked off by stating financial figures based on – counting machines (that don’t exist); the cost of a referendum (that is the same if we vote yes or no); arguing that AV is not Proportional Representation (no s**t sherlock); and actually listing people who supposedly support their campaign when in fact they are signed up as members of the YES campaign!
Apparently pointing this out makes me insulting! Well I think it is insulting to the electorate that they have to deal with these diversionary tactics of negative campaigning. When an organisation says something that is not an opinion but actually untrue, in the real world that is called a “lie”. Politicians however think this is “debate”. Andrew Rawnsley has also commented on how negative the NO campaign is. (see http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2011/feb/20/andrew-rawnsley-electoral-reform )
The point of the argument should be – is AV a better system of voting for the UK than the First Past The Post System (FPPS). The NO campaign should be selling the virtues of FPTP in the way the YES campaign wants to sell the virtues of AV. Instead all we get is statements that are disingenuous at best by the NO campaign about counting machines that do not exist.
Firstly, I would like to say that FPTP is a GOOD system if there are only 2 political parties to be elected. Even then it is not perfect though as it does not matter HOW MANY votes each political party gets but where it gets them. In 1951, the Labour government turned out to be the most popular government since WWII, it got more votes than the Conservative opposition yet lost the election. This happened again in 1974 this time favoring Labour.
Every electoral system has it’s good and bad points, including AV. The question that will be asked at the referendum will be
Do you want the United Kingdom to adopt the ‘alternative vote’ system instead of the current ‘first past the post’ system for electing Members of Parliament to the House of Commons?
FPTP was designed for a 2 party state, in the 1950’s as many as 98% of the population voted for either Labour or the Conservatives. Most people voted along class lines and voted the same way for all of their lives.
This is no longer the case. The proportion of people who vote for either of the two main parties has steadily decreased since the 1950’s to around 65%. The turnout is also steadily decreasing.
Many in the NO campaign appear to be making Nick Clegg or the Liberal Democrats the issue. They think that this will alienate people who do not like the coalition and the current government. This debate is not about Nick Clegg or the LibDems. It is about the ordinary people of this country and how they wish to elect all members of parliament. In the same way that the Lib Dems may benefit by a change in the electoral system, both Labour and Conservative parties will disproportionately benefit from keeping the FPTP system.
Currently, around 66% of MP’s are not able to get 50% of the vote in their constituencies. Around 382 seats are considered “safe” seats. Many of these sitting MP’s have a virtual “job for life” and do not have to campaign outside of their core vote because they do not need to.
In addition, our elections are decided by as few as a 150,000 at an election, in marginal constituencies. All campaigning by political parties are centered in these marginal constituencies and unless we happen to live in these areas our votes have little baring on the results of an election.
AV is not a panacea and does not automatically solve all the problems of the FPTP system. But it does address some of the issues while keeping the link with a single constituency and Member of Parliament.
Some argue that because it is not as good as a Proportional Representation system that we should not vote for AV. The NO campaign has been stating this, but of course those saying this a) would not give the public a chance to vote on PR and b) they wouldn’t vote for PR anyway and are against any electoral system change.
This I believe makes their arguments disingenuous.
AV IS a better system than FPTP for these reasons:
- It is better because it will mean MP’s have to work harder to reach out to more voters rather than their core vote
- It will give a higher representation to smaller parties with broader support
- People will be able to vote for the person they believe in rather than the person they least dislike
- More votes will count towards the election of Parliament, government and to the constituency candidate, there will be fewer “wasted” votes
- It will create fewer safe seats
- It penalises extremist parties because they are less likely to get 2nd preference votes
Choosing AV is a positive step forward for our democratic process and may well lead to more people feeling enfranchised leading to a higher voter turn out.
There are many other reforms that are needed to our constitution in order to make the government more accountable to Parliament and the people. This is just one small step that also keeps the familiarity of the current boundaries for MP’ seats.
We should ignore the negative NO campaign and make them face the real issues. I fear it will be a long 11 weeks of campaigning with many dirty tactics to come. Hopefully, we can return to a more sane debate in the weeks ahead and debate the merits of both systems.