On May 5th, the British people get a rare opportunity to vote in a referendum over the way we’re governed. The choice is to retain First Past The Post (FPTP) or switch to the Alternative Vote (AV) system. Two warring camps have emerged: Yes2AV and No2AV, each (of course) with its own Twitter hashtag.
The campaign has been messy; the better-funded and organised No2AV camp has strong financial backing from the Conservative Party, and has run a series of effective smear campaigns, including:
- AV would require complex voting machines and cost vast amounts of money (false).
- AV is too complex for “ordinary people” to understand (nonsense – it simply allows the voter to have multiple choices rather than one).
- AV would benefit extremist parties (not true, the reverse in fact – which is why the BNP oppose AV).
Unfortunately the Yes2AV campaign has been diverted to responding to these attacks and has failed to make a clear case. I think the case for AV over FPTP is clear and easily argued as follows:
The Partisan Case – how will my party fare?
- Conservative: FPTP is designed to keep the Tories in power. You should vote No.
- Labour: likely to be more neutral, as Labour will get second-preference votes from Green and LibDem voters. Vote Yes to weaken the Tories.
- Minority left-of-centre parties (Green, LibDem, Socialist, etc.): this will benefit you as you can now place your first choice for your party rather than vote tactically. Vote Yes.
- Minority right-of-centre (UKIP): this will benefit you for the same reason as above. Vote Yes.
- Far-right (BNP, English Democrat, etc.): Your best chance of coming to power is to win 30% in a FPTP challenge. Vote No.
The Objective Case – which is a better system?
- FPTP is ancient and hugely discredited, and has been abandoned in most mature democracies. It makes voting pointless for most people in the country as most constituencies are safe seats for either Conservative or Labour. It therefore discourages participation, which weakens our democracy. A party can win with as little as 30% of the vote.
- Other than the UK, the main user of FPTP is the United States. This system has crushed all but two parties which are both funded by the same corporate interests; this is about as undemocratic as a democracy can be.
- AV won’t smash, but will weaken the two-party duopoly on power, giving the opportunity for the much-needed rise of new parties, which could then modify British politics in an evolutionary rather than revolutionary manner.
- FPTP encourages the creation of broad, monolithic parties which are effectively ready-made coalitions and have no clear message; both Labour and the Tories attempt to cover very broad ranges of attitudes. This was reflected well by the Blair government, where voters voted left-of-centre but got a right-of-centre government anyway.
- It’s true that AV represents a smaller step than many reformers would like; but its rejection on May 5th will be taken as a rejection of any change, and kill our last chance of reform, doubtless for many decades. Don’t forget that the political establishment hates the idea of any reform (as it would alter the status-quo). There is no chance that we would get asked again if the vote is No.
- The only large political party that supports any electoral reform is the Liberal Democrat party. A No vote risks destroying the LibDems, leaving no political player that would campaign for any future reform.
It may not be ideal, but it’s the only chance we have for change. Vote YES on May 5th!