On 5th of May a referendum will be held to ask you, the voter, for the first time ever, how you want to elect your main public servants, Members of Parliament. You will be offered a choice of voting Yes to the Alternative Vote, or voting No to retain the current First Past the Post System.
I urge you to vote Yes. Why? Well here is a brief guide to the advantages of the Alternative Vote.
There are three big advantages that the Alternative Vote System has over the First Past.
It ends wasted votes.
It makes MP’s work harder, for you.
It ends jobs for life for MP’s.
A wasted vote is a vote that does not influence the outcome of the election. A wasted vote is a vote where the voter might as well have stayed at home. I don’t mean that everyone should be able to vote for the winner but every vote should actively determine who that winner is.
At the moment many votes are cast for candidates who don’t finish in the top two or three. They have no effect on the result.
This has three bad outcomes.
Vote Splitting. Under First Past the Post the votes for two similar candidates can be split. Say Labour and the Co-op Party or the Conservative Party and UKIP. Voters, unsure which will win, vote in equal numbers for both candidates. The total votes cast for similar candidates far outweigh the votes cast for their main rival, but the rival sneaks through the middle of the split votes and takes the seat with the largest minority of the vote.
Extremism. Wasted votes allow highly potent minority groups to win seats in Parliament in the same way. In a divided constituency a small, well organised, extremist party can easily emerge as the largest minority. When I say the largest minority the size can be very small. Norwich South is held on 29.35% of the votes cast. That’s right, you can win a seat on less than 1/3 of the votes cast and so can the BNP.
Disenfranchisement. If your vote is wasted why would you bother voting? Many people don’t. More and more every election. This leads to political apathy. The big issues aren’t properly considered. Voters and politicians start to ignore each other.
With vote splitting and disenfranchisement more and more MP can get away with ignoring most of the people in their constituency.
The alternative vote lets you rank candidates in order you would prefer them to be your MP. It removes the risk of vote splitting.
Under the Alternative Vote every MP needs to get 50% of the votes in the final round of counting. Most, 2/3, will need second preferences to get there. Using a preference system you can send a clear message to the returning office. “I want her, or her. I’ll tolerate him. I don’t want them.”
At the moment 2/3 of seats are held by an MP with the largest minority of votes. Only about 100 seats change hand each election. This means literally millions of people might as well have stayed in bed on polling day. The Alternative Vote will mean that many more seats are marginals and that every vote could play a part in deciding who has the sacred duty of representing them in Parliament.
Harder Working MP, 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.
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?
Only about 100 seats every change hands so most of the campaigning and most political interest goes to those seats. 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.
Jobs for Life
Think about how hard it was to de-elect Neil Hamilton. Every other candidate had to stand down and a famous and highly respected war corresondent had to run against him.
Think about how many MP’s who were implicated in the expenses scandal returned to Parliament.
How many MP’s who voted for the Iraq war were re-elected?
2/3rd of seats are held by an MP with less than 50% of the vote, most of these seats won’t every change hands. Once you’re in, even with a minority of support, you are there for life.
Having a job for life breeds complacency and contempt. You don’t have to do a good job. You don’t have to answer to anyone. You can vote how you like, without regard to any promise you might have made or any interests in your constituency. Everyone else in the country faces the fear of losing their job. Shouldn’t MP’s feel that fear too?
The Alternative Vote system requires an MP to have the support of more than half his constituents. Unless she is doing a good job, behaving ethically and honouring her pledges in the House she can’t expect to gather enough second preference to hold her seat.
You can read more about each of these advantages of the Alternative Vote by following the links in the text above.