Last Friday I attended a meeting organised by students at Tremough to discuss the proposal for a new voting system called AV. As I entered the lecture theatre there was a very animated argument going on between students with different views before we had even begun.
It was encouraging to see some passion in the debate and I wish the rest of the country would focus on it more. In just fifty days time, we will all be asked to go to the polls to vote on whether we want to scrap our current one person, one vote system, where you put a cross in the box and bring in a new multiple voting system where you write numbers beside all the candidates. It would be a major decision for our country but the debate has been slow to take off.
I think one of the reasons for that is that it is the referendum that no one really wants. The Conservatives want to keep one person, one vote, Labour voted against the Bill and most Labour MPs will campaign for a ‘no’ vote. The Lib Dems will be running the Yes campaign for AV but they don’t really want it either and would prefer to have a proportional system. Last weekend Lord Owen, the founder of the Liberal Alliance, said that he would be voting ‘no’ because AV would be the worst of all worlds – it would do nothing for smaller parties, would be less proportional than our current system and would prevent real reform to a system like PR.
As for voters themselves, most people are dismayed that we are considering spending hundreds of millions of pounds on changing our voting system at a time like this with everything else going on in the world.
One of the main arguments against AV is that it takes power away from the voters and gives it to politicians. Rather than voters deciding who the government should be and what its priorities are, under AV politicians tend to decide who the government is behind closed doors. That means more political stitch-ups and more broken promises.
I for one will be campaigning for a ‘no’ vote. The idea that every man and woman in our country has an equal vote has been the hallmark of our democracy since the days of the suffragettes. We should stick with it. Under AV, some people get more votes than others. Someone who votes for the BNP is given a second bite of the cherry. That’s not fair. Our current system is used by over 70 countries but AV is used by just three and of those, Fiji is trying to get rid of it and most Australians want to return to the British system. But I am sure the debate will run and run over the next six weeks.