AV - A half baked voting system that nobody wants

On Monday, the Government made a compromise with Opposition Peers in the House of Lords, meaning that the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill is very likely to become law in the next week or so. While I am sure that the pubs and cafes of Devon have not exactly been abuzz with excited talk of filibustering, guillotine motions and Royal Assent, this is rather more significant news than it sounds; it confirms the fact that in May, we will have an opportunity, if we want, to change the way we vote in General Elections.

It is a shame then that the only method we are being given a chance to adopt, the Alternative Vote, is such a miserable excuse for a voting system that even its supporters do not want it save as a step to something else.

On paper at least, it sounds interesting. Voters rank each candidate in order of preference. The candidate with the least amount of first preference votes would be eliminated and his second preference votes distributed among those remaining, and so on until one candidate received 50% of the votes.

What does this mean in practice? First, it means that most of us, who vote for the main parties, would never get to have our second preference votes counted. In Torridge and West Devon, the 86% of voters who voted Conservative and Liberal Democrat would only get one vote. But those who voted for minority parties such as the BNP would see two or three of their votes counted! And they will simply gain the privilege of voting for someone they don’t want!

This cannot be fair, and more to the point, it is not even proportional. AV would exacerbate the huge parliamentary majorities we have seen in recent years. In 1997, for example, Tony Blair would have won even more seats as would Margaret Thatcher in the landslide of 1983.

Can we point to examples of AV in action? Unsurprisingly, it is not a system that has been enthusiastically adopted around the world. In fact, the only countries that use the system are Australia and Papua New Guinea, and the Australian public are thoroughly sick of it. In a poll conducted last autumn only 37% of the population want to keep AV, while 57% of Australians want to scrap it and adopt the way we currently do things in Britain.

It is easy to see why Australians feel this way. Voting turnout dropped 9% after AV was introduced in Australia. Five times as many votes are spoiled as in Britain as huge numbers of voters make mistakes on their complex ballot papers. One Australian MP was elected in the recent election despite having come third in the initial voting round.

Finally, and by far the most important factor, the system transfers the vital power to get rid of a government (vital since it is the only effective one that the political classes fear) away from the people and the electorate of this country and places the last word in the hands of politicians.

Professor Vernon Bogdanor, the leading constitutional authority, says,

“With regular hung parliaments, elections would no longer determine who forms the government, as they did in 2005, 2001 and 1997 for example. Rather they would alter the power relations and bargaining strengths of the parties.”

The prospect of being stuck for years with a half-baked system that nobody wants strikes me as absurd, and this is why in the coming weeks and months I shall be campaigning, and voting, No in May’s referendum.

Surgery Dates

Geoffrey holds regular surgeries. To book an appointment please click here or call 01822 612925.
Saturday 8th September
Holsworthy, Tavistock
Saturday 22nd September
Bideford, Torrington