Thursday 31 March 2011

Alternative Vote v First Past The Post: Both positions and my opinions

The AV v FPTP debate has to be one of the biggest political issues I've actually been invited to vote on in my life thus far. And it's easily one of the most contentious.

My declared position: I have never voted in an election where the seat I voted in could have changed hands. My vote was and felt pointless. I felt disenfranchised and voiceless. Under AV that ends and my vote has meaning again. I may not get the result I want, but my vote will have counted for longer and for more.

Below is what both sides say with my comments in red after each point. Do join the debate.

This is what the NO TO AV (5448 likes on Facebook / 2243 Twitter followers) campaign say:


AV is costly
The change to AV will cost up to an additional £250 million. Local councils would have to waste money on costly electronic vote counting machines and expensive voter education campaigns. With ordinary families facing tough times can we really afford to spend a quarter of a billion pounds of taxpayers' money bringing in a new voting system? Schools and hospitals, or the Alternative Vote – that's the choice in this referendum.

Ah, money, always the first and easiest refuge of a weak argument. But where there's a will there's a way of course and asking us to choose between schools and hospitals or the alternative vote is patronising and disingenious.

AV is complex and unfair
The winner should be the candidate that comes first, but under AV the candidate who comes second or third can actually be elected. That’s why it is used by just three countries in the world – Fiji, Australia and Papua New Guinea. Voters should decide who the best candidate is, not the voting system. We can't afford to let the politicians off the hook by introducing a loser's charter.

It's not complex. I have a form with all the candidates on like usual. But this time, instead of one cross, I get to put 1st, 2nd, 3rd and so on. So I get to make more choices. Not less. My vote counts for more and for longer - I may still not pick the eventual winner of course. Hardly complex, allows me to tactically vote, register protest votes etc.

AV is a politician's fix
AV leads to more hung parliaments, backroom deals and broken promises like the Lib Dem tuition fees U-turn. Instead of the voters choosing the government, politicians would hold power. Under AV, the only vote that really counts is Nick Clegg's. We can't afford to let the politicians decide who runs our country.

Hard to believe theTory party are advocating this view but they are. Weaker parliaments (like the one we have now) leads to coalitions (like the one we have now) which means more checks and balances. How can more checks and balances be bad? This government don't seem to have much opposition to getting their policy program across after all.


It creates strong governments
Our current system tends to create strong, accountable governments and means that coalitions are uncommon, with no horse-trading by politicians behind the scenes. AV isn’t proportional and it leads to more backroom political deals, the worst of both worlds.

See my above point. No horse-trading? Are they serious? Compromise is rife, in party and between parties.
It's fair
It sticks to the principle of 'one person, one vote' – unlike AV, where supporters of fringe parties can end up having their vote counted several times, while mainstream voters only get one say.

It all ends up with one vote though, just heard louder - this is a very disingenious point to make.
It's simple to understand and easy to implement
Each person votes for the candidate they support and the one with the most votes is declared the winner. Staying with our current system also means we will not need to spend £26 million telling people how the complicated system works, or £130 million on expensive vote-counting machines.

See my above point.
It excludes extremist parties
Parties such as the BNP have never been able to get enough support in a single constituency to have one of their candidates elected as an MP. Under AV, however, the far-right One Nation Party won 11 seats in the Queensland state legislature, whereas they would have only won 8 under First Past the Post.

Ah, extremism, the refuge of the seriously weak and flawed position when even saying a plan will cost too much fails. Such is the risk of a democracy. Perhaps if we educated our citizens and engaged them democratically we would be less worried about extremism?

It's the most widely used system in the world
People the world over have copied our tried and tested system. It's used by 2.4 billion people – more than any other system – in 50 countries, including Canada, India and the USA. AV, on the other hand, is only used by Fiji, Australia and Papua New Guinea.

Yes and we've got unethical, immoral, unaccountable governments and MPs around the world that are virtually impossible to throw out after an election when they are in power, have a majority and can change their minds and forget their manifesto's. Plus, let's face it, the world is in a bit of a maybe FPTP is not that good a system on the face of it.

This is what the YES TO FAIRER VOTES (7520 likes on Facebook / 4853 Twitter followers) campaign say (impressive list of supporting organisations incidentally and tellingly no similar page on the Vote No campaign site):


MPs working harder to earn - and keep - our support
Your next MP would have to aim to get more than 50% of the vote to be sure of winning. At present they can be handed power with just one vote in three.  They’ll need to work harder to win - and keep - your support.

Bloody good idea to me. How could this be bad?
 A bigger say on who your local MP is
Ranking candidates gives you more say - in who comes first and who comes last. If your favourite doesn’t win, you can still have a say. It’s as easy as 1,2,3…

Finally, my vote has a chance of making a difference. I get to voice my opinion as we wittle down the candidates until there are two left and one wins by majority. Simples!

Tackling the ‘jobs for life' culture
Too many MPs have their ‘safe seats’ for life. Force complacent politicians to sit up and listen, and reach out to the communities they seek to represent.

Could not agree more.

What do you think?

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