AV or No AV?

The day is almost upon us, it’s time to decide if we’re going to stick with our current ‘First-Past-The-Post’ voting system or switch to the ‘Alternative Vote’. And I don’t think I’m the only person in the country who still hasn’t decided!

It’s not because I don’t care about the vote like some, in fact quite the contrary. I think I may have overthought this decision. Throughout my time of studying History, Politics and Law, I have always had a bit of an unnatural interest in voting systems. Yeah, not the most interesting subject, but a lot of this stems from the fact that I see the current ‘First Past The Post‘ system of politics as unfair.

And it is unfair, no-one is going to sway me away from that fact. On a national level, your vote could be entirely wasted because you vote in local sectors which then make up the national image. That may seem fair on a simple level, but when you delve closer, you find the issues.

When I voted in the elections last year, I was based in Stoke-On-Trent central – a Labour stronghold. Because of that fact, the seat remained Labour by quite a margin – after all, they appeal most to that area on a local level. But because of that, my vote (which was not for Labour) was essentially wasted due to the large mass of Labour voters in that region. In fact, many people told me in the run up that you’d be silly to vote for any party other than Labour as it would only help the BNP’s margins as all other party’s are so low in that area. This shouldn’t be how politics works, my vote should make a difference on a national level.

Still not convinced? Well lets look at some stats from 2010’s election. If we look at percentage seats in parliament won through the FPTP system, the stats tell us

  • Conservatives – 47.2%
  • Labour – 39.6%
  • Lib Dem – 8.7%
  • Others – 4.5%
Pretty clearly still a two-horse race. Then look at the percentage of votes cast across the country as a whole.
  • Conservatives – 36.1%
  • Labour – 29%
  • Lib Dem – 23%
  • Others – 11.9%

These are the figures of people who actually voted for each party and although they do still form the same overall picture, they tell a quite different story of how close the race was. Is it fair that 23% of the public voted for the Lib Dems, but they are represented with only 8.7% of parliamentary seats?

Let me put it in a way some people might understand more, would you accept this in the X-Factor? Of course not, there’d be a scandal in all the national papers, yet we accept it fully as the voting system for our country. Ludicrous!

But now we reach the problem. As much as I disagree with the FPTP system, I don’t believe that Alternative Vote is really any better.

The system is (contrary to what some people have said) fairly easy to understand. By rating partys on the voting slip in order of preference, more opinions can be taken into account. The top votes are then looked at and counted. If a party has 50% or more of the vote then they will win that seat. If however no-one has that high a percentage then the vote moves on to a second round where people’s second preferences are taken into account. This keeps on going until someone has over 50% of the vote.

This system is more proportional and means that candidates will have to get at least 50% of the vote to win (meaning by theory, that more people want said candidate to win). I do think the system is fairer in that extent and I also refute the ridiculous comments that AV will make voting difficult (are we so thick that we can’t rate people by preference!). AV also means that we are more likely to move out of the current trend of Labour vs Conservatives and other parties may eventually become real alternatives (although I think the Lib Dems may have messed up their chance within the last year!)

But it will cause problems. For one thing, AV is much more likely to create coalition Governments and I don’t think anyone (even those in the cabinet) have been that impressed with the current one.

AV also doesn’t eliminate the ‘safe-seat’ and less proportional system we already have, we could still end up with quite skewed results compared to what people actually voted.

And lets not also forget that AV can in a manner of speaking, not lead to the person with the most prime votes winning. A bit of an odd way to run an election.

The fact is that many people want electoral reform, but most don’t think AV is the answer (including the Liberal Democrats who ideally wanted a Proportional Representation ‘every vote counts’ system). And this is why tomorrow is really a Conservative Win/Win. They know that few people really want AV, but by giving the Lib Dems this referendum as part of the coalition, they still got the Government they wanted (instead of the LD’s joining Labour).

It’s a tough decision and one I’ll mull over until I put my cross in the box tomorrow. The real fear is that whatever happens, it will make little difference. This is simply a referendum and even if the vote goes against the Tories, they’ll most probably just ignore it.

Happy voting!

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