On May the 5th the British people have a chance to fundamentally change part of our democracy yet for some reason the media has been practically silent about this. There has not been nearly enough coverage and it’s likely that many people will not think that voting is worthwhile.
I think we should get out in large numbers and vote AV and I’ll tell you why.
The current voting system is known as First Past The Post (FPTP). It’s supporters claim that it is simple and straightforward. We all get a single vote to cast for a candidate to represent our constituency in Parliament. After voting closes all the votes are counted and the candidate who has the most votes wins.
This system has the advantage that each constituency gets a representative who has been voted for by local people. It has the disadvantage that, when there is no clear overall favourite, a candidate will be elected who has the support of only a minority of the electorate.
The Liberals have long advocated Proportional Representation (PR). This is a system where all the votes for all the parties in the UK are added up and a number of elected Members of Parliament (MPs) allocated proportional the the number of votes cast for their party. This overcomes the shortcomings of FPTP as smaller parties or parties with support widely scattered through the country are allocated MPs which they would not otherwise have got. It has the disadvantage of breaking the MPs link with his constituency.
But the system which is being put to the British people on May the 6th is not PR. The system which is being proposed is known as the Alternative Vote (AV).
With AV the voters get to rank the candidates in order of their preference. So the voter puts a ‘1’ by their first-preference candidate, a ‘2’ by their second-preference and so on. They can rank as many or as few as they wish.
When all the votes are counted, if a candidate receives a majority of first-preference votes then they are elected. If no candidate gains a majority on first preferences, then the second-preference votes of the candidate who finished last on the first count are redistributed. This process is repeated until someone gets over 50 per cent.
Initially I was skeptical about this and I may have been swayed by the Tories pushing their propaganda that this is a “complicated” and odd system. However, after mulling it over for some time I have decided that, if one is trying to elect a representative, then this is not only a superior system to FPTP or PR but that FPTP can be absolutely undemocratic.
My reasoning is as follows. Suppose you and 59 other people survived a ship sinking and you were marooned on an island. 60 people in all. You decided that someone should be the leader (I leave aside why we think we need leaders for the moment). You decide to elect the leader. You decide that you will all vote and the person who gets the most votes wins.
Suppose 3 people are candidates and one guy gets 50 votes. You’d be fairly satisfied that most people wanted this guy as leader. Both FPTP and AV would deliver this result.
However, now suppose that one candidate received 8 votes, one candidate received 25 votes and one candidate received 27 votes. FPTP would dictate that the candidate with 27 votes would be the leader even though the majority of people would not want him as their leader. In fact the majority of people might think the guy was completely unsuitable but they would be overruled by the minority.
I believe that in this situation everyone would start yelling and people would decide, that, OK, it was obvious that the guy with only 8 votes was not a contender and he should not be a candidate. A second round of voting would be held with only the two main candidates.
Now the people who had voted for the least popular candidate would cast their votes for one or other of the two mains candidates. The outcome of this would be a majority.
In a national election with numerous candidates it is not practical to keep rerunning elections but whoever invented AV has obviously thought of this. AV gives us a chance to rank our first preference and then asks us: if your first preference were to come last then who would you vote for. This is a much fairer system because, as in the shipwreck scenario, it ends up with everyone voting on two candidates and one necessarily end up receiving a majority vote.
The Tories argue that AV is too complicated and strange and that FPTP is more like a sprint race. The Tories are TALKING BOLLOCKS!
FPTP does not always produce a clear winner. If it were a sprint race then, in many situations, all the runners would collapse, never finish the race and be carted off on stretchers. The winner would be declared the guy who got closest to the finish line. It is an absurd system as there are situations where nobody wins yet one guy gets to become an MP.
To continue the analogy, AV is more like a series of heats where the loser of each race is knocked out and the races rerun until, in the semi final, only two runners remain and first across the line is the winner.
I believe that AV is fair and logical because it produces a clear winner voted for by a majority.
So get out and vote on May 5th.