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May 3, 2011

Yes to AV! No to AV!

By Spear's

Two of Spear’s writers debate the merits of AV, which the country will vote on in a referendum this Thursday

Two of Spear’s writers debate the merits of AV, which the country will vote on in a referendum this Thursday

Mark Nayler: Yes to AV!
With the alternative vote referendum just two days away, it’s a good time to remind people of the excellent reasons for supporting this purported change to the way in which our MPs are elected.

Under the new system, a politician would have to receive more than 50% of their constituency’s votes in order to be elected to parliament. If that sounds like an obvious element of a democratic election system, remember that at present just 1 in 3 of elected politicians have the support of the majority in their constituencies. The proposed AV system will introduce greater fairness into the election procedure, ensuring that no candidate with less than 50% of the votes actually gets into Westminster.

And while we’re on the subject of fairness, another advantage of the alternative vote system is that it will eliminate the need for tactical voting. Given that there is only so far one mark on a ballot paper can go, the present system means that often voters are forced into supporting the party they believe is the lesser of two evils rather than the one they would like to see in power.

But according to the proposed system, instead of placing an ‘X’ next to their preferred candidate on the ballot paper, voters will write a ‘1’next to their top choice, followed by a ‘2’ next to their second choice and so on. The system performs the important function of enabling people to register their support for the party and candidate they’re really passionate about, while also giving them a say in which they’d prefer to see come in second.

And there will be no place for extremism under the new voting system. Though not performing on the main stage of British politics, candidates representing parties of extreme religious or political standpoints do manage to scrape seats in parliament from time to time. Supporters of the alternative vote system should stress that this will not be possible: the doors to Westminster will be blocked for extremist politicians who will find it impossible to garner the majority support of their constituents.

Boris Johnson has said that the proposed AV system is ‘too complicated’ for the electorate to grasp. This rather patronizing remark – as well as being untrue – highlights the kind of lazy complacency the AV is designed to eradicate. By means of ensuring greater fairness in elections it will achieve precisely this.
Josh Spero: No to AV!

Many people who oppose the offered form of AV – mark your candidates in order of preference, discard lowest candidate and count their second preferences until someone has more than 50% of the votes – do not do so because they think AV is perfect. I certainly don’t: many voters are disenfranchised by being in safe seats, and a tiny percentage across the country actually swing an election.

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But if what we want is a more proportionate system – and Nick Clegg on the Today programme this morning hinted that’s what he’d like in the next Parliament – AV is not the way to go about it. Pure proportional representation, where parties receive seats according to their vote across the whole country, is not what is on offer: instead, we are presented with a ‘miserable little compromise’ (to use Nick Clegg’s own words) which makes a perpetual state of coalition, with all the unprincipled horse-trading that involved, much more likely. Of course the Lib Dems like AV: they would be king-makers.

There is also the form of voting itself: if no candidate gets more than 50% of the votes in the first round, the lowest-ranked candidate’s votes get counted again. So, the second choice of those who vote for extremist or fringe parties are more valuable than those who voted for the current first-placed candidate.

I don’t buy the No to AV campaign’s nonsense about it costing £250 million (won’t somebody please think about the children?), but equally I am disgusted by the Yes to AV campaign’s mawkish adoption of a World War Two veteran. This issue is incomparable.

If we were, say, to have a fully-elected House of Lords, done by pure proportional representation, this would seem a more sensible – and more democratically beneficial – move than adopting a poor halfway house which is neither more democratic nor more definitive.

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