It’s time to vote for a better vote

— Contributed by Scott Wheeler

Almost a year after Britons went to the polls it’s almost time to vote again as May 5th marks one of the biggest days in recent British history. The referendum on whether we want to ditch Britain’s First-Past-the-Post (FPTP) in preference for Alternative Vote (AV) will take place.

So what is the AV? AV is where you rank candidates in order of preference. If a candidate fails to win 50%+ one of the vote the first time around, we then go to the second preferences. The candidate with the least amount of votes is knocked out and their voters’ second preferences are then given.

This process then continues until a candidate achieves the necessary percentage of the vote. This therefore results in second and third preferences being crucial in many elections.

So why change the “winner takes all” system? Simply, because it is not representative of the voters. In Lincoln, Tory MP Karl McCartney got elected with 37% of the vote.

This isn’t unusual. In two-thirds of constituencies across the country, MPs are elected with less than 50% of the vote. Other examples include Norwich and Lib Dem MP Simon Wright who got elected with 29% of the vote. Moreover, these cases are becoming increasingly common because, like it or not, Britain is no longer a two party system.


The Lincoln “Yes to AV” campaign kicks off at Lincoln Cathedral. Photo: Marcell Grant

In 1945, 98% of the country voted either Labour or Conservative. Now, that figure is 65%. However, even that figure is artificial. It is clear the majority of the country is not interested in two party politics. In the European elections of 2009, where proportional representation is used, the combined Labour and Tory vote was just 45%.

So why would AV change this? After all, it is not proportional representation (PR). But we shouldn’t let good become the enemy of perfect. But the good thing about AV is that it should be supported by both supporters and opponents of PR. AV will also encourage MPs to work harder for your vote. Under FPTP voters are coerced into tactically voting – that is voting with your head and not your heart. Under AV, you will be able to vote with both, without wasting your vote.

But some people have argued that AV will mean some get multiple votes but to quote IPSOS Mori: “This system does not involve some people getting more votes than others. Every voter gets just one vote, which is counted several times. Your second preference is not a second vote, it is an instruction about how you want your (only) vote to be used if it would to be wasted because your first choice candidate can’t win.”

It might be dismissed as a “Lib Dem thing” but AV is supported by Labour leader Ed Miliband and much of his shadow cabinet. UKIP, the Green Party, and the English Democrats also support it. David Cameron might not be a fan, however, the BBC recently reported that some Conservative MPs were “relaxed” with the alternative vote.

Don’t fear AV. It’s not an inferior system or as confusing as some claim. It will make MPs work harder for your vote, reduce tactical voting and the adversarial nature of politics. If you’re not happy with politics, take the chance to make a change.

One Response to It’s time to vote for a better vote

  1. Denis Cooper says:

    The conduct of the “no” campaign has been a disgrace.

    The “yes” campaign has been guilty of somewhat exaggerating the benefits of AV, but the “no” campaign has resorted to outright lies from the very start.

    Ranging from big lies, such as the claim that if we moved to AV we would have to spend huge sums on voting or vote counting machines, when no machines would be necessary and none would be purchased, to small lies such as telling the public that the cost of the referendum will come out of their council tax.

    On the latter, the leader of the “no” campaign, Matthew Elliott, is on secondment from his post as the Chief Executive of the Taxpayers’ Alliance, and it is simply not credible that he doesn’t know that local councils will recover their expenses from the Treasury, up to the reasonable limits laid down in this order:

    http://www.electoralcommission.org.uk/__data/assets/pdf_file/0007/116647/document2011-04-05-121145-2.pdf

    “The Referendum on the Voting System (Counting Officers’ and Regional Counting Officers’ Charges) Order 2011”

    So of course it will still come out of taxes, but national taxes not council tax.