Thursday, 28 April 2011

Defend one person, one vote and say no to AV

THE PRINCIPLE of one person, one vote has been the hallmark of our democracy since the days of the suffragettes and now is not the time to abandon it. It is fair because every man and woman has an equal vote. It is simple and clear because you put a cross in the box and the candidate with the most votes wins. It generally gives us strong and decisive government. Our current system is the most widely used in the world and it puts voters in charge – people know how to throw out tired governments.

The Alternative Vote system is used by just three countries – Fiji, Papua New Guinea and Australia. Polls show that most Australians don't like it and want to return to the British system. When they introduced AV in Australia, turnout went down and two elections later compulsory voting had to be introduced.

So why on earth are we even considering switching to such an unpopular and discredited system? The answer is that it was the bottom line demand by Nick Clegg as the price for forming a coalition. This referendum has not been demanded by the public, it has been forced on the public by Lib Dem politicians who think it will advance their own narrow political interests. The cost of switching to AV has also been estimated at £250 million. At a time like this, we can all think of better things to spend that money on.

If we switch to AV, such political stitch-ups will become far more common. It will create a culture where political parties promise the earth, knowing that they can abandon their manifestos in the horse trading that will follow. That is bad for democracy.

Under AV, some people get more of their votes counted than others. You only get a second or third vote if you voted for the most unpopular candidates. So, someone who votes for the BNP will be given a second bite of the cherry whereas someone who votes for a mainstream party will be restricted to one of their votes being counted. That's not fair.

It also means that one person's first choice for the candidate they are really passionate about is valued no higher than another person's fifth choice, for a candidate they care little for. During the count, you end up with all sorts of different numbers muddled together on the same pile which is clearly ridiculous.
We should not blame the voting system for the problems of Parliament. There is nothing wrong with the principle of one person, one vote. But what I want to see is more conviction in politics, where candidates plant a flag in the ground and take a stand for what they believe in. We can change Parliament to make that possible, but AV would send things in reverse and create politicians who pretend to be all things to all men. That would undermine democracy. So, to defend one person, one vote, say "no" on May 5.