Av: One (small) step forward

AV is a small change that makes a big difference“- Yes to Fairer Votes

Alternative Vote seeks to sneak third parties in through the back door by eroding the direct, simple and credible link between voter and elected representative”- http://youngcontrarian.tumblr.com

The choice, you may think, is simple. On the one hand we keep our current, unrepresentative electoral system while on the other we take a step towards a more proportional and fair system. The decision for progressives, you may think, has already been made for them. The fact is however that May’s referendum on The Alternative Vote, the first national referendum since 1975,  is set to open up rifts between those on the left in an unprecedented way. There are those of course who simply oppose AV because it means they are less likely to get elected but for a large chunk of those on the progressive side of politics AV is an easy way out of moving towards a fully proportional system.

Why No?

With 114 Labour MP’s pledging this week to vote against AV in defiance of their leader and the Conservatives all but dead against, the arguments against AV are certainly worth looking into. The NO2AV is rather light on solid arguments but they set their case out in three simple ways:

1) Defend our Democracy

2) Keep the power of your vote

3) Defeated and unfair, discredited and unwanted change in the way we choose our government.

Our parliament is not a museum. There has always been evolution in our politics, and today AV is a logical next step’– Yes to Fairer Votes

It is unfortunate, to those who are in favour of keeping first past the post, that the arguments presented by the NO2AV camp fall to scrutiny so easily. To ‘defend democracy’ an assumption has been made which suggests that things must never change. The fact is, however, that British democracy is and always has been an organic, ever changing (if far too slowly) and reforming organism. To defend our democracy we must make it one which is, slightly, more relevant to the twenty first century. Defending our democracy, and strengthening it, may come at a price.

There is a chance, though a very small one with AV, that party’s like the abhorrent British National Party could be in with a chance of getting into Westminster. What, however, is more likely is that The British National Party, who’s policies go little past vitriol, will be, as per usual, defeated by the fact that most people are not interested in their racist and hateful policies. Furthermore we will, if the referendum passes, see a system where candidates need to receive more support of the electorate thus eliminating the ‘protest’ vote and possibly dispatching with the BNP once and for all.

On the other hand the Alternative vote will allow people to vote for the party or candidate who best represents them rather than voting tactically for the least bad party. Surely then we must support a system which encourages people to vote for the candidate that they support rather than against the candidate they dislike. If we are to defend democracy we must also defend everyone’s right to a positive vote.

First Past the Post does anything but keep the power of individual’s votes. According to the Institute for Public Policy Research less than 2% of voters determine the result of an election:

“Only about 31% of voters – 9 million people – live in the marginal seats which form the main battlefields in elections under FPTP, found the IPPR. But the number whose votes made up the margin of victory in seats which actually changed hands was even smaller – just over 460,000, or 1.6% of the electorate”

Added to this is the fact that, under first past the post, the likelihood of coalitions is set to increase. It cannot, despite the No2AV camps best efforts, be argued that AV should be rejected because it takes power from people and leads to ‘lame duck’ coalitions.

The final argument made by the NO2AV camp is the most powerful. No2AV are quite right to criticize AV as a voting system that isn’t up to scratch (or that much more proportional), they are right to point to Nick Clegg calling it a ‘miserable little compromise’ but they are wrong to think that a ‘no’ vote will pave the way to a better form of reform, it will not. We must, as a nation, show an appetite for electoral reform and rejecting this less than perfect change will take any other offers from the table for a long, long time.

In the end it comes down to trust. The British political establishment, headed by a monarch and including an unelected second chamber, is not very good at representing the population and it is time to trust the people of Britain to have (a bit) more say in who runs their country. With a majority of people in favour of changing to an AV system, despite widespread horror at The Liberal Democrats, progressives should clasp this opportunity to make a change and, from there, build a strong, grassroots movement calling for an elected second chamber.

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