POLLING cards and election literature will soon be dropping through most people’s letterboxes because once again, on May 5, it’s election time.
In the Horsham district, electors will be choosing the make-up of 32 parish councils and selecting 44 district councillors. What makes this occasion different is that a referendum on our voting system will also be held.
All electors will have the opportunity to cast their vote on whether we should change from the current ‘first past the post’ (FPTP) system to the alternative vote, or AV.
Generally speaking, we are supporting the retention of FPTP; the Liberal Democrats are in favour of AV; Ed Miliband is supporting AV and his Parliamentary Party are divided across the two camps. I thought I’d take this opportunity to explain why I, personally, will be voting against AV.
Under AV, voters rank candidates on the ballot paper in order of preference. If a candidate obtains more than 50 per cent in the first round, they are elected. If not, the candidate with the fewest votes is eliminated and their second choices are allocated to the remaining candidate. This process continues until one candidate is victorious.
I’m against it because it’s a complicated and confusing system that is ultimately unfair and expensive. Under AV, the ‘winner’ might not be the candidate that came first but the second or even third placed person. FPTP on the other hand simply utilises the principle of ‘one person, one vote’. With AV, those who support fringe parties, such as the BNP, may end up having their vote counted several times, while supporters of major parties only have one say. This is desperately unfair.
Calculating the results of an AV election is a lengthy process, which would also be expensive. Local councils would have to buy costly electronic vote counting machines. It has been estimated that making the switch will cost some £250m.
AV also results in more hung parliaments which necessitate more behind the scenes deal-making amongst politicians. FPTP is more likely to result in a majority government with the winning party implementing the manifesto it was elected on.
The danger is that people regard AV as a proportional and somehow more democratic system than FPTP. It’s not and as the senior Liberal Democrat, Roy Jenkins, who chaired an independent commission in 1998 concluded, AV is ‘even less proportional’ than our existing system. He also warned that it was ‘disturbingly unpredictable’.
This is a complicated issue and I have only hinted at the arguments against the change. Much more information can be found at www.no2av.org and www.aboutmyvote.co.uk.
MP for Horsham