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On May 5th there will be a referendum to determine whether there should be a change to the voting system used in General Elections. That is, the change has very limited scope. It will not affect local elections. At present we have a system whereby each voter gets one vote, and the the candidate who gets more of those votes than any other is elected. This is called First Past The Post (FPTP). The referendum is to determine whether we should change to a system called the Alternative Vote (AV).
So what do I think is the killer argument. I reckon it's Glenda Jackson. She won a Parliamentary election with 32.8% of the vote. The runner up had 32.7% - i.e. the cigarette paper margin from earlier on. So the proportion of people who did not vote for Glenda was 67.2%. For every person who voted for the winner, more than two did not vote for her. This does not feel to me like democracy. Therefore I want a change, and the change I am being offered is AV, so I'm going to vote for it. YES on May 5th
FPTP is an analogy with horse racing. Its not really a very good analogy. In a horse race the horse whose nose first passes the finishing post is the winner. It doesn't matter whether the second horse is behind by a furlong or by the thickness of a cigarette paper, the first past the finishing post is the winner.
Some of the differences between a horse race and an election:
Alternative Vote is quite a good name for the other system. If you vote for absolutely the least popular candidate, and no other candidate has gained more than 50% of the vote, your first vote is cancelled and your second choice is counted. That is, your vote is given to an alternative candidate.
Exactly how this works is apparently set out here in a video though I haven't watched it (I don't like videos), and here in words - I have read this explanation. This is quite good except it says "People can nominate as many preferences as they like" - which is obviously not true - preference is the act of preferring, which you only get to do once. What they are trying to say you don't have to give a rank order to all the candidates. You can if you like only write in a number 1 against a single candidate even if there are 5 candidates. Or you can rank some or all of the candidates .
The Cabinet Office has tried to describe the system, but early makes the hideous mistake of saying "This [election of a candidate] can be done either by the current voting system known as “First Past The Post” (FPTP), or by the Alternative Vote (AV) system." which obviously is not true, it can only be done by FPTP as things stand.
So before we give this any consideration it seems we are beset by confusion. A poor analogy, not very good explanations, even from the Cabinet Office (the creme de la creme of civil servants!).
Then we come to the arguments on either side.
One of the arguments is that under AV some votes count more than once, under FPTP its one person one vote. Well actually if you vote for the loser your vote doesn't count under either system. If your second choice is also for a loser, then your vote still doesn't count. Still no difference. If your rank ordering is considered far enough down so that eventually your Nth vote counts for a winner, then your vote does count. Once. Same as FPTP. But not for the person you actually wanted to elect! So you are a bit more likely to have some sort of a say, which is what I think this chap is getting at with his statistics. I can't help feeling his logic is flawed, as I will try to show, not with logic but with an example. These are his comparison for Lynne Featherstone and David Lammy.
Another argument is that AV is more expensive - well so what, every thing nowadays is ever more beset with rules and red tape - if they don't make it more expensive this way they'll find some other way to do it.
In fact looking at this a little deeper the votes cast in Kilburn and Hampstead give lots of interesting possibilities.
There were 8 candidates. Lab, Con and LibDem were the top three, roughly equal. If all the minor candidates second choices had gone to Glenda she still would not yet have won under AV, not until all the LibDem second choices were counted. If all the minor candidates second choices had gone to the LibDems, then the Conservatives would have been eliminated, and their second choices redistributed to Glenda and the LibDem. If the minor candidates second choices had gone really neatly, with one of them not expressing any alternative choices, then each of the top three might have had 17,607 votes!
The reason I think the voter power statistician has got his numbers wrong is this result from Hampstead. This implies that voters there already have a lot of power and would gain little more from AV. I think the opposite is true. Nearly 70% of voters have no power whatsoever, only Glenda's 32% have a say. Under AV this would shoot up to over 50%
An exhortation from the Lovely Lynne
Dear Mr Essex,
Tomorrow local people will be voting in a UK-wide referendum on whether to introduce a new system to elect MPs. It is called the Alternative Vote (AV).
AV is a small change that will make a big difference. Here are three reasons why I'm voting "yes".
Firstly, every vote will count.
By ranking candidates in order of preference you have a say even if your chosen candidate does not get elected.
Secondly, potential MPs will have to get over 50% of the votes.
Under the current system, too many MPs have 'safe seats' - for life. Under AV if someone wants to represent you then they will need the support of over half the voters. MPs will no longer feel they have a 'job for life'.
Thirdly, under AV Parliament will better represent our communities.
With fairer votes, MPs will have to reach out to everyone they seek to represent, not just traditional supporters, and listen harder to their views.
If you want to find out more, check out this video made by Dan Snow - http://bit.ly/lzvHAz
Tomorrow you will have a once in a lifetime opportunity to change our politics for the better.
Your polling station is located at Hornsey Library, Haringey Park and is open from 7am - 10pm. I hope you will vote Yes this Thursday.
MP for Hornsey & Wood Green (Lib Dem)