May 2, 2011 by Nick
There is a referendum on Thursday as well as the local elections. The referendum is to decide whether MPs elected to Westminster should be chosen via Alternative Vote (AV). Succinctly AV allows you to rank the options available to you in order of preference so that your second and third choices may factor into the election of a candidate should they not be enough people’s first choice. Personally I am very much in favour of it for a number of reasons.
Firstly, and I am sure I can’t be alone in this, I often view voting as a case of choosing the most palatable of the realistic options or in keeping the least palatable out of office. I may want to vote for a fringe party that is more in step with my beliefs but I opt for a mainstream candidate in order to keep another mainstream candidate out. With AV I can vote as my conscience dictates without worrying this is going to enable another candidate I don’t like to sneak in with me having wasted a vote.
Our political system will change. If a candidate is loathed by 60% (or more) of their electorate then they won’t somehow sneak in on the back of their not being an opposition candidate around whom support coalesces. It will be impossible to win despite being unpopular with everyone who didn’t expressly want to vote for you.
Our political system will stay the same in some very important ways. We will still have local representatives whom we can connect with and are locally accountable. More than we currently have, even. MPs will still have to have surgeries and will no longer be able to ignore people who didn’t actively vote for them as their first choice. This will make politics more local as well as more representative of the national mood.
We won’t face coalitions like the one we have currently; where one party that is unpopular with the majority of the electorate yet somehow finds itself the largest party. Where one party with a large share of the popular vote nevertheless has very few MPs and has to go along with policies it strongly disagrees with. This coalition is not indicative of things to come; it is a symptom of what is wrong with our current system.
It will be harder to commit electoral fraud.
We will see degrees of commonality amongst centrist parties leading to a continuity of government, rather than sudden lurches to political extremes every few years that destabilises our country.
I think most of the reasons for voting against AV come down to fear of the unknown, conservatism (and I always find traditionalism inherently odd, why shouldn’t we embrace something new if it is an improvement?) and irrational personal attacks (this is not a referendum on Nick Clegg and, if you believe it to be, isn’t a “no” vote an implicit endorsement of David Cameron?). I don’t think AV is a pressing issue that will improve the economy or create new jobs or fix education, policing or health in the short term. But a “yes” vote on AV will mean we get the governments we can at least with, rather than one other people choose to give us.