I read with interest Councillor Sebastian Fields views on the AV referendum in the Citizen last week. There are obviously a number of arguments being used for both systems, but fundamentally I think that the expense and work required in changing to a new system in the hope that it will revitalise politics is in essence, tinkering with the paintwork in a hope it gives you a new car.
I do not believe that AV gives any candidate any more mandate than the current system (First past the post, or FPTP). This is because with AV what you are getting is the candidate that over 50% of the voters object to least, rather than the candidate that voters want most.
One of the arguments for AV is that it will increase the mandate of the elected individual. I believe this argument is flawed because there is one fundamental problem we have and that is voter turnout. Turnout for elections, at best is around 60% and for local elections can be much lower. The AV promises to return a candidate with over 50% of the votes, but if there has only been 60% of the voters turn out, that candidate still only has a mandate of just over 30%. Using FPTP say a candidate gets elected on 40% of the vote, then that is 24% of the electorate. It is lower than AV, it is only 6% lower, so is it worth all the hassle?
I think its important to look at voter intention as well. Using FPTP then you know you have a candidate who has been elected because enough people have voted for that candidate and what they stand for. Under AV, there is a good chance that you will not get the candidate that the majority thought was the best candidate with their first vote, and are most likely to get the candidate who is “best of the rest”. I don’t think that in itself is a great mandate, and this is where it is misleading playing the numbers game of getting over 50% because they are not..
Will it change Tory, Labour or Liberal heartlands? Personally I don’t think it will any more or less than FPTP, because fundamentally if most of the voters are Tory voters, then they will vote blue as their first choice. And actually, what a travesty it would be if an area is full of people who vote Labour and they get a Liberal Democrat Candidate who was the next best option, would that be representative?
Will AV hold the elected members to account? I don’t believe it will hold them to account any more than FPTP. Using Gloucester as the example, enough people were turned off the Labour Party that they voted accordingly and protest voted with the Lib Dems or Tories and we lost a great local MP because of national issues. Therefore, we have personal experience that it can happen and is effective.
Both the Labour Party and the Liberal Democrats use AV internally, but I do thing there is subtle, yet fundamental difference between an internal party vote and an external election. An internal Party Election, while being adversarial, has a fundamental common core of all members and candidates wanting to do better for the good of the party, where as a local/national election each candidate/party is out to win at all costs.
From a logistical perspective, I can see the election itself being a nightmare. Not too bad if only 3 or 4 candidates stand, but if there is a lot more, then keeping track of ballot papers in an open manner, moving them to the next preference voter and towards the end a candidate not being happy and requesting a total recount will be mayhem. I remember seeing one of the Lib Dem elections recently where Councillor Jeremy Hilton took part and there were 25 rounds. Imagine the potential confusion.
AV is not some magic wand that will change politics for the good. It will not solve the biggest problem we have and that is voter apathy. We need to engage the electorate to come out and vote for every election, no matter how minor. Given the number of protest marches, both locally and nationally, the best way to protest is at the ballot box when the opportunity arises. Unfortunately many people feel so remote from the political world that they do not exercise their democratic right. This voter apathy will not be solved by changing the voting system but it is the problem we need to solve.
So, I think this is the sledgehammer that is trying to crack the wrong nut. I will be voting No to AV on May 5th and I would encourage you to read up on both systems and see what you think, but in the cold light of day, AV does not solve the problems that need to be solved.