One of the great advantages of the alternative vote system is that it makes MP work harder. Not just harder, it makes them concentrate on the needs and wishes of their constituents. Not just the narrow range of constituents needed to win a seat using First Past the Post. Using the Alternative Vote an MP needs 50% of the votes to win. Many more seats are marginal. MP’s have risker jobs. That makes them more responsive to your needs. That makes them work harder, for YOU.
Most seats are not marginal seats. As a candidate, once you’ve been selected by Party HQ to win a safe seat you don’t have to do anything further to become and stay an MP. You only need to do one thing to keep your job, your salary, the deferential treatment and fat expenses and the right to lecture the rest of the us. You need to keep your Party bosses happy.
There are a few ways to measure how beholden to you an MP is (and therefore how not beholden to his Party bosses he is).
You can see how many votes decided the election.
You can look at what share of the vote the winning candidate received.
You can look at the voter power index.
The number of votes, the closeness of the contest is probably the most straightforward way of working out whether your MP is more respectful of you or the Whips. My constituency was decided by fewer than 400 votes. If 200 people had voted differently Ian Murray would not be Ian Murray MP. All I need is 199 friends to change the outcome.
2/3rd of MP’s did not receive an absolute majority of the vote. The lowest share of the vote needed to win a seat at the last election was 29.35% of the voters of Norwich South. Fewer than one in three. In Edinburgh South Ian Murray MP polled just over 1/3rd of the votes on 34.74%. His closest rival Fred Mackintosh received just over 1/3rd of the vote on 34.02%. I bet Ian Murray MP pays really close attention to his constituency. In contrast, the largest share of the vote was 71.08% in Belfast West. Their MP, Gerry Adams, is so sure of his position that not only does he not turn up to Parliament, he’s in fact been elected to the Irish Parliament.
The voter power index measures how powerful your vote is by working out how likely it is to change the outcome of the constituency election and therefore decide which Party wins power (or has power lent to them). The voter power index uses a function of the number of times the seat changes hands (or is lent to a different party). I’m very powerful. I live in Edinburgh South, one of the top ten most powerful constituencies in the country. My voter power score is 1.013. I get the power of just slightly more than 1 vote. Your score is likely to be closer to 0.25, a quarter of a vote.
Only about 100 seats ever change hands so most of the campaigning and most political interest goes to those seats. Analysis by Electoral Calculus shows that between 1987 and 2005 the average number of seats that changed hands was 71. The wildest year in recent times was 1997 when 180 seats changed hands. That leaves 470 seats unaffected by one of the biggest landslides in history. That’s more than 70% of MP’s who don’t ever have to worry about their job or the quality of the representation he gives you.
Once he’s been elected your MP pretty much has a job for life.
So by living in a marginal constituency that changes hands on razor thin majorities I have much more power and influence than you. If you want more power I’ll sell you my flat.
I’m sure every MP will tell you they work 80 hour weeks. I’m sure many of them right. Are they working hard for you? Are they campaigning on the issues you want them to campaign on or are they smoozing with the Union bosses or Big Money Big City bankers who bankroll their Parties?
I think the Iraq war is a good example of what happens when MP’s are more concerned about doing what their Party Leader wants than they are about serving you, the voter. A million people marched in protest against the war and scores and scores of MP’s in safe seats ignored them. They could afford to ignore the 1 in 40 odd of their constituents who took to the streets because the risk of vote splitting means that they were never going to suffer any serious electoral threat because under First Past the Post it is too risky to vote for a party that isn’t already one of the Big Three.
If you’re not lucky enough to live in a marginal seat your voter power is hugely reduced. Not only can political parties ignore you but so can your MP too. He’s got this seat for life, he wants a ministerial car and you can’t give that to him.
When your MP can take his seat and your vote for granted does he really work for you?
The Alternative Vote requires MP’s to have the support of the majority (not just the largest minority) of the voters. That means that many more seats are marginal and that no seat can be relied on. If an MP is not doing a good enough job but you support his party YOU can stand against him without worrying that you will split the vote and let in someone you don’t agree with.
The Alternative Vote puts power in the hands of voters and forces MP’s to work harder, not for themselves but for YOU.