Monday, 11 April 2011

AV or not AV

By crikey, it's been a while since I wrote a blog post. Hello again!

So, the AV referendum campaign properly kicks off about now, the No2AV people have a broadcast in which they are going to tell you that AV is rubbish, and we should stick to the old system of electing people. I, on the other hand, reckon they are wrong, and here's where I tell you why I think that.

So, in simple terms, what's wrong with the current system? You vote for a candidate, and the one with the most votes gets in. Right? Well yes, if there's only two candidates. If there are three, or more, then that's not always the case. Have a look at the results for Harrogate in the 2010 election, in terms of percentages;

Conservative 45.7%
Lib Dem 43.8%
Labour 6.4%
BNP 2.1%
UKIP 2.0%

Ok, so that tells me, if you do the maths, that 54.3% of the people who voted, didn't vote for the winner. The majority of people in Harrogate didn't vote for the person who is their MP. How's that fair, then? If you look at Hull North, it's even worse. 39.2% of the voters elected Diana Johnson. That means nearly two thirds of the people who voted didn't vote for the winner. In fact, around 21% of people voted right wing, that's Tory, BNP, UKIP.

I don't think it's fair that you can get elected with less than half the electorate voting for you, because in some cases, you only have to impress those people who would vote for you anyway. You can get away with ignoring two thirds of the electorate. The Alternative Vote system, in my opinion, goes some way to rectifying this.

At this point, by the way, it would be good to address one of the main arguments of the No2AV campaign, namely that the AV system is too complex. I find it insulting that I'm considered too thick to work out how AV works. It's this easy;

* you get a ballot paper
* instead of an X, you rank the candidates in order of preference. 1 for your favourite, 2 for the next, then 3, and so on.

That's all you really need to know. Actually, in my opinion, if you can't put people in order, then should you be voting? I believe that is really easy, and that everyone can understand it.

After that, it's down to the vote counters. They worry about the complexities of it. Except it's not complex. They count all the papers. If no-one gets 50% of the vote, they take the person who finished last, look at who they placed as their second choice, and divide them into the other piles. And they repeat this, taking into account the third/fourth choices if necessary, until someone gets a majority.

I think this is a better system, because whoever wins has agreement of the majority of people who voted for him/her, and therefore has a stronger mandate. I also believe it means that every candidate has a greater responsibility to address every constituent, not just the supporters of their own party. If you voted Tory in North Hull, then Johnson had no reason to make the effort to secure your vote, because you are a minority. If your second choice could mean she loses, I guarantee your views will take on a sudden new importance. Labour voters in Harrogate will be the difference between winning and losing.

I've heard other arguments against AV.
* It's too expensive. It'll cost vast amounts of money for flash counting systems.
- Well, actually, no it won't. It's no different in terms of logistics than the current system. All you need is pencil, paper, and a load of volunteers to do the counting. It might take a bit longer, but so be it.

* No-one else uses it.
- True, not many countries do. But the Labour party elects it's leader using AV. I remember using it to vote for the NUS president when I was at university. It's used in all walks of life. Why not in government? Saying we shouldn't do something because someone else doesn't isn't an argument. Maybe _they_ are all wrong?

* Most AV supporters actually want PR.
- There might be some truth in that as well. I would prefer Proportional Representation to AV, but either system is far superior to the current one, in my book. We don't have PR as a choice, so we'll vote for what's in front of us and worry about PR at a later date.

* Minority parties will decide who gets into power. In fact, it could allow the BNP in.
- The BNP don't want it, which tells me they don't think they'll do well. But so what if it did? It puts pressure on the main parties to address the issues that make people vote for these smaller parties, surely? Personally, if people are more likely to vote for a party because they want them to win, as opposed to now when people vote for who they think will beat the party they want to lose, , then that's a good thing.

* There'll be more coalition governments.
- We've had 4 coalition governments, compared to 2 in Australia over the same time frame. They have AV. We don't. Says it all. And what's wrong with coalition governments anyway? The alternative is majority government that steamrollers through unpopular policies unopposed, and I hate that.

So, that's my view. You might agree, or not. But it's a chance to change our voting system from the rubbish system we have now. Any improvement is good, surely? And AV is a definite improvement. You know what to do.