As the Leicestershire branch of the Take Back Parliament campaign for Electoral Reform is launched, activist Stuart Emmerson considers the background to our current X-voting system and the merits of the AV system on offer in next May’s National Referendum.
Power to the People!
Last time you went into a polling booth you were given a ballot paper with instructions to mark it with an “X”.
Why do we in Britain vote like that? Surprisingly, it’s because the “X” is the mark of the illiterate! Our practice of X-voting is virtually unchanged from the 19th century when most voters were illiterate, unable to read or write letters or numbers.
Voting systems can be divided generally into two types: X-voting and Preferential voting. Preferential voting requires me the voter to rank the candidates in my order of preference: “1” for my most preferred candidate, “2” for my second preference candidate, and so on as far as I want to go. Clearly this allows me to express a much more detailed and subtle view of my feelings about the whole range of candidates presented to me. And therefore it gives me the voter more control – more power – over the outcome of the election.
It’s a shock to realise that, in our current parliament, the majority of our MPs – over two-thirds of them – were elected on a minority vote; that is, more people in their constituencies voted against them than voted for them!
As the countries of Eastern Europe shook off the shackles of Communism in the 1990s, each one – often by means of a Citizens’ Assembly – set about choosing an electoral system for its own democratic future. Each one studied the range of electoral systems operating in European democracies, including Britain’s. The result? Not one chose our British system! Westminster remains the only simple X-voting parliament anywhere in Europe.
Why is it that our Westminster establishment is so in love with X-voting? It’s because Preferential voting gives us the voters more power over our politicians, and they don’t like that! The Constitution of the Irish Republic specifies a form of Preferential voting. Twice the establishment politicians have tried to get it changed to X-voting through a national referendum (in 1959 and 1968). And twice the Irish people decisively told them “on your bike”.
In May 2011, we in Britain will have our chance in a National Referendum to make a simple change from X-voting to a Preferential voting system called the Alternative Vote, to propel Westminster – the “Mother of Parliaments” – from the 19th into the 21st century. As the May 2011 Referendum approaches, get ready for the uniquely unedifying spectacle of establishment politicians from both ends of the political spectrum standing united to do everything in their power to tell us NO, not to change, that they know what is best for us.
But they are our servants not our masters. We the British people are no longer illiterate. We the people will not be intimidated. We the people will consider the arguments and we will make our own decision. We the people can “Take Back Parliament”.
Dr Stuart Emmerson (firstname.lastname@example.org) teaches mathematics at Wyggeston & Queen Elizabeth 1st College, Leicester and has a particular interest in psephology, the mathematics of representation.