Last Updated: 28 February 2011
Created: 28 February 2011
“Are they talking about it down the Dog & Duck?” This is a saying my colleague Andrew Percy MP (Brigg & Goole) often uses in Parliament to question whether an issue is really important outside the Westminster village. Following the launch of the Alternative Vote (AV) referendum campaigns, it seems very apt. In a nutshell, they aren’t!
I am still puzzled about AV. The polls are saying this isn’t a priority for the electorate and I know from my casework that it simply isn’t on the radar. However, for the Liberal Democrats it was a ‘deal breaker’ in forming the coalition, so on May 5th we will have a referendum.
Under First-Past-the-Post (our current system), everyone gets one vote. You put an ‘X’ next to your favoured candidate. The candidate with the most votes wins.
With the proposed AV system, instead of using an ‘X’, voters rank candidates in order of preference using ‘1’, ‘2’, ‘3’ and so on. If one candidate has more than 50% of the first preference votes, they are elected outright. If that doesn’t happen, the candidate with the fewest votes is eliminated and the second preferences of the people who voted for them are allocated to the remaining candidates. If still no candidate has a majority of votes, the next lowest candidate is eliminated and their second, third or later preferences are redistributed. This process keeps on occurring until one candidate has over 50% of the votes.
Let me be clear, I am very opposed to AV. Here are the reasons:
It’s unfair. With First-Past-the-Post, everybody gets one vote. But under AV, supporters of extreme parties like the BNP would get their vote counted many times, while supporters of mainstream parties - the vast majority of us - would have their votes counted only once.
It doesn’t work. Rather than the candidate with the most votes winning, under AV the least popular candidate could be elected.
It’s expensive. Calculating the results would be a long, complicated process, which could even require special counting machines - and it would cost the taxpayer millions to implement.
It’s discredited. Only three countries in the world use AV - Fiji, Australia and Papua New Guinea - and both Fiji and Australia want to get rid of it.
Nobody wants it. Even the ‘Yes’ campaigners don’t really want AV – they view it merely as a convenient stepping stone to even more changes.
Supporters of the ‘Yes’ campaign would argue that an MP should have the support of at least 50% of their electorate. I have sympathy with that principle, but I am just not convinced AV would deliver that in a fair and clear way.