AV Referendum: “Why I am voting No…”

Whatever the method of voting used to elect the government, in a democracy, there is one thing that everyone accepts, and that is, that there are winners and losers.

At the moment in the UK, every one has one vote. You have the right to use that vote & freely choose who to vote for. You don’t have the right to vote for the winner.

We have used the system called ‘first-past-the-post’ with universal suffrage since 1928. It is simple, straightforward and effective. The one who gets the most votes wins.

We are being asked to change to a system called the ‘Alternative Vote’ (AV) in a move that its proponents claim will:

1) make politicians have to gain the support of 50% of their constituents to win;
2) stop votes being wasted;
3) make MPs work harder.

Our current system, they say, is broken and it’s time to usher in a new era of cleaner politics.

But the Alternative Vote won’t do any of that. I am voting NO because AV is an unfair politician’s fix. David Laws MP, the Lib Dem negotiator of the coalition deal last May, claimed AV would “shield (his party) from unpopularity”. AV is a system that boosts the results of the third party wherever it is used, often at the expense of the smallest parties represented in Parliament.

Under AV instead of marking your ballot paper with a cross for the one you want to win, you rank the candidates in order of preference. So far so good, but it’s when you get to the counting stage that the unfairness of AV becomes clear. If a candidate achieves 50% of the votes cast they are declared the winner. However, if they haven’t gained that margin, then the votes of the least popular party are recycled according to who they wanted to come second, third and so on. Because voting will still be optional, many MPs will still win with less than 50% of the votes cast as many people will still vote only once for the one they want to win.

Votes for the losing parties in a constituency can be counted several times. The first preferences of the two most popular parties are counted only once. The second, third, and fourth ranked votes of those who voted for the losing candidates could determine the outcome of the election. How is that fair?

Those arguing for AV say that MPs who get less than 50% of the vote do not have a legitimate mandate because not enough voters in their constituency support them. But more people wanted them to win than any other candidate.

As many MPs will continue to win with less than 50% support, what is the point of AV? This spurious 50% winning margin is merely a device to try to fix the outcome in a very few seats in favour of the third party in British politics. But it may have an unforeseen outcome in Northern Ireland where AV may harden voting along sectarian lines as parties give each other their second preferences. The political map would become less diverse as the system helps the main parties to solidify their support. AV certainly makes it more difficult for smaller parties like the Green Party to win seats in the UK Parliament.

And there is no such thing as a wasted vote. Every vote is counted. You may vote for a candidate who doesn’t win but that’s democracy.

As for making MPs work harder – changing the system of electing them won’t do that! Many MPs in marginal seats are already working very hard indeed. Unfortunately, the only places in which AV may actually change the outcome are in seats like Brighton where the Green Party won their first Parliamentary seat!

Yes, voters are still very angry and disillusioned with politicians. What they want are politicians who say what they mean and mean what they say. They want political leaders who make promises that they mean to keep, not break in return for Ministerial appointments in coalition government. Cleaner politics? I don’t think so. AV would deliver more broken promises after every election. That’s why I’m voting No to AV.

Rt Hon Jane Kennedy is a National Organiser of the No to AV campaign in the run up to the 2011 referendum.

Jane is also formerly the Member of Parliament for Liverpool Wavertree. She was Northern Ireland Security Minister from 2001-2004.