Thursday, 28 April 2011

Why saying YES to AV is a vote for accountable politics

A third of the public is still undecided on AV. I suspect part of the reason why they remain to be convinced is that there are two conversations taking place in every announcement on AV: debating the merits of the policy change itself and pushing naked party political advantage. We seem unable to divorce one from the other and as a result, cynicism is rife about this referendum. I’ll try my best to honestly disentangle them.

For me, the main reasons I favour AV are around fairness:

· First Past The Post (FPTP) worked as a system when we were largely a two-party state, but now smaller parties fare much worse under it in proportion to their national vote. Change would take us a closer step towards proportionality, albeit modestly.
· One of the striking things I noticed at the time of the expenses scandal was that MPs (from all parties) who held the safest seats were more likely to abuse the system. I’d argue that solid majorities leave politicians less concerned with how their voters perceive their behaviour. The need to earn second preference votes will inevitably force them to change this outlook.
· The extremist parties such as the BNP won’t be able to use AV to gain a foothold in Parliament because their support is shallow beyond their first preference core vote.
· It won’t cost any more than FPTP.
· You still only get one vote, just more of an investment in your representatives, because they will be voted for by at least 50% of voters.

Looking at my self-interested Green Party perspective:

· Yes, research seems to indicate that there would be a reasonable improvement for our electoral chances. Traditionally, many people don’t vote for us because they fear their vote would be wasted, when they should vote tactically to prevent a disliked party getting into office. AV would allow them to give us their first preference, knowing that if we don’t succeed, they still have their insurance policy vote. This would allow voters to express real choice.
· Even if it doesn’t translate into seats, I argue that it would effect public perceptions of us and force the media to engage with us more seriously. Over the longer term, this shift would serve to build confidence in us amongst voters who wouldn’t ordinarily consider us.
· Under AV, second preference votes will become essential in elections. It means that the other major parties would be more likely to court our voters on our issues in order to obtain their second preferences. This should translate into our policies being championed by others, which I am not going to argue with!

I believe this change represents a modest step in the right direction. It’s by no means a perfect model, but I can’t lose sight that this fight has been going on for decades. At least this incremental change takes us a step further towards a more fair and proportional system - and AV would be likely to strengthen the hand of those political parties truly committed to longer-term change and overhaul of democracy.

At a time when the public is disenchanted with politicians, this referendum is a wake up call for them to listen to us, account for our views and fight slightly harder for our votes. Why would you sniff at the chance to tell politicians we expect more?

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