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Why I'll be voting 'no' tomorrow
04/05/2011 23:06:00

Tomorrow we get the chance to decide what system we should use to elect MPs - the current 'first past the post' system or the Alternative Vote (AV) system.

I think it's fair to say that the referendum hasn't exactly caught the public's imagination. Both the 'yes' and 'no' campaigns have been guilty of overstating their case and engaging in an increasingly vitriolic war of words.

But however much of a turn-off the campaign may have been, tomorrow's vote is important and whatever your view I would encourage you to use your vote.

Although our current system isn't perfect, I'll be voting 'no'. I take the view that we should only change to a new system if there is a compelling case for doing so and the 'yes' campaign have clearly failed to make such a case (to be fair to them, that's probably because hardly anyone currently urging you to vote 'yes' acutally supports AV - most of them want a proportional system and for reasons I don't understand see AV as a stepping stone towards that when in fact it can be less proportional than our current system).

Their main argument is that AV ensures that MPs have the support of at least half of the people who vote. But it only does that by treating the second, third, fourth etc preferences of people who vote for minor parties like the Greens or the BNP as equal to other people's first preferences. That's clearly not right and it can result in the farce of the person who comes second or third ending up as the winner.

What's indisputable is that it would cost more to run - either the counts would take much longer or we would have to buy electronic counting machines.

Finally there's the evidence from abroad. Lots of countries use our current system and lots of countries use proportional systems but only three countries - Australia, Fiji and Papua New Guinea - use AV.

It can be less proportional than our current system, it's clearly less fair, it would cost more and it's only used in a handful of countries around the world - four good reasons to vote no tomorrow.

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Readers' Comments

On 05/05/2011 14:49:00 Croydonsfuture wrote:
The hard evidence is that AV is fairer then the current system. The best research we have is from the independent British Electoral Study and the University of Exeter using data for the 2010 election. This study is authoritative as a large sample of actual voters were asked for their second preferences.

Most citizens would agree that the fairest system gives an actual number of seats in Westminster that best reflects the percentage of votes cast. Let's look at what actually happened in 2010 under our current system:

Share of vote Share of seats

as a % as a %

Conservative 36 47

Labour 29 40

Lib Dem 23 9

Other 12 4

The above analysis shows how unfair our current system is. The 2 big parties benefit hugely by it whereas smaller parties are penalised.

But is AV fairer? Let's have a look at the authoritative research undertaken by the independent University of Essex:

Actual Actual AV projected

Share of vote Share of seats Share of seats

as a % as a % as a %

Conservative 36 47 44

Labour 29 40 38

Lib Dem 23 9 14

Other 12 4 4

The above analysis speaks for itself. AV is fairer.

Here's the link providing BES' detailed research:


On 06/05/2011 23:45:00 Gavin Barwell wrote:
"Most citizens would agree that the fairest system gives an actual number of seats in Westminster that best reflects the percentage of votes cast"

I'm not sure if they would. Proportionality of representation is only one factor. One of the problems with PR is that it would lead to perpetual coalition, which - unless there was some kind of party realignment - would mean the third party would always be in government. That's clearly not fair. There are other factors that are important too.

On the substantive issue, you are right that AV will produce more proportional outcomes in closely contested elections like 2010. But it will produce less proportional outcomes when one party is miles ahead like in 1987 and 1997 - see http://fullfact.org/blog/AV_referendum_FPTP_no_to_av_representative-2629 or http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/8506306.stm.

Anyway this is all academic as we now have the result!




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