Monday, 25 April 2011

Left-wingers and progressives should vote yes to AV

On 23d April, Vince Cable called for a "progressive majority", made up of Labourites, Lib Dems and Greens, to vote yes to AV and stop the Conservatives from dominating this new century. Cable argued that left-leaning people make up at least 50% of the electorate, but their votes are often cut up amongst the various progressive parties in the UK, thus allowing the Tories to win majorities through the back door, as right-wing voters don't really face the same problem.

This struck a chord with me; it was the most acute point in defence of AV I had come across. I was already Yes to AV before I read Mr Cable's comments, but nevertheless, I hope they had an effect on ambivalent Labour people.

The campaign thus far has, broadly speaking, been rather dull and quite disappointing. There has been mud-slinging from both sides, some truly awful political broadcasts and blatant lying. What is more, I think I'm right in saying that most people are not very engaged with the debate, and one can't blame them. But it is crucial that we are able to rise above the politicians' spats and truly see the Alternative Vote for what it is.

The No to AV camp have consistently criticised AV for being "complicated". It isn't. At the moment, we use First-Pass-the-Post (FPTP), where voters put an "X" next to their preferred candidate. With AV, you rank candidates in order of preference. When the votes are counted, if one candidate does not get at least 50% of people's first preferences, then nobody has won. Thus, the candidate with lowest share of the vote is knocked out and their votes are redistributed amongst the remaining candidates.This process continues until one candidate has at least 50%. This video explains AV brilliantly if you require further clarification.

As you can see, under the Alternative Vote, MPs have to work much harder as they must earn at least 50% of the vote. In the current FPTP system, an MP can get into parliament with a shockingly low proportion of the vote, and he/she is thus not truly representative of their constituencies. That is, quite obviously, undemocratic. Therefore, by introducing AV, we would put and end to safe-seat constituencies where people are angry that, no matter how they vote at present, their voice is not heard. AV would also dispel the need for tactical voting, so people can actually vote for the candidate they truly believe to be the best.

FPTP is an old and unfair system. It was, perhaps, somewhat defensible when politics was a two-horse race between Labour and the Tories. But politics has changed, and voting needs to change too. We are in desperate need of a new and more proportional system. Of course, AV isn't the best voting method around, it has its faults, but it is a start. That is what is important about the upcoming referendum. We have a once in a lifetime opportunity of taking the first step on the path to wide-ranging electoral and political reform. And we simply cannot afford to miss it, for if we do, we won't get another chance like this for a long, long time. AV is a small but important change, that will hopefully be the beginning of something much bigger. Who knows, voting yes to AV on 5th May could eventually lead us to full PR. Let's hope so.

If it's the financial aspect of AV that is stopping you from saying yes, then it's important to note that, contrary to George Osborne's fallacious assertions otherwise, introducing the Alternative Vote would not require us to use costly electronic voting machines. They use AV in Australia and they seem to be doing just fine without them. What's more, this figure of £250 million is how much the referendum costs anyway, irrespective of whether or not you vote yes or no. This point was excellently made by Johann Hari on his article on the topic, which is well worth a read.

According to recent polls, the result of the referendum is still anybody's to win. After a drop in support for AV, the two sides are now pretty much equal. The people who will decide the result of this referendum are my fellow members of the Labour Party. Lib Dems are mainly for it, Conservatives are mainly against, no surprise there. But it is Labourites who will tip the balance. I am very annoyed by fellow Labour people who say they're voting no to AV in order to "punish Nick Clegg". As Ed Miliband said, this is not a referendum on the leader of the Lib Dems, but a referendum on whether or not we want to live in a fairer and more democratic society. I dislike Clegg as much as anyone, but I value AV much more. If the result is no, he will suffer a little embarrassment, but it isn't going to end his career. If the result is yes, it means more people's voices being heard and acted upon. Surely that is something we all desire? Labour people, I implore you to heed Vince Cable's words. People of the left need to unite, stop fighting and vote yes to AV, thus ensuring the Tories are kept out of government for good. It is essential for this country's future.

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