“Given the choice, I would vote for the Alternative Vote.”

“Given the choice, I would vote for the Alternative Vote.”

An AV System would change the two-party politics arena. Photo: Wikipedia

An AV System would change the two-party politics arena. Photo: Wikipedia

Being half as popular as the main parties, one might expect that Ukip win half the number of seats that Labour and the Conservatives do at the next election. Yet alongside the two-party dominance is another formidable British political institution: the first-past-the-post electoral system.

First-past-the-post (FPTP) is a system where winner takes all, no ifs or buts. The person with the most votes, regardless of whether or not they have a majority of the votes, is elected to Parliament. This has meant that if you exclude the Coalition government founded in 2010, there has not been a government elected with 50% of the nation’s votes since the 1930s. Governments, sometimes on a vote share of 30%, have ruled Britain since universal suffrage was introduced.

This is where the argument for an alternative electoral system arises. One of the electoral systems often recommended, which was even put to the nation in a referendum in 2011, is the Alternative Vote (AV) system.

Under Alternative Vote, a voter can rank candidates in order of preference. There are multiple rounds of voting: in the first round, the voters’ first choices are counted and if no candidate has over 50% of the vote, the two candidates with the lowest amount of votes are eliminated and they move onto the second round of voting where the second-choice preferences of voters are brought into account. If no candidate has 50% of the vote, the bottom two candidates are eliminated and they move on until one candidate has a majority.

Complicated? You bet. But if this system were in use, every candidate would have a majority of voters supporting them and the system could be considered more democratic.

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If there was an election using AV, and if the results of the Ashcroft poll were the same as the election, Ukip would win 104 seats and the Conservatives and Labour parties would win approximately 200 seats each. This is a truer representation of the will of the people than the results under FPTP. Smaller parties would have appropriate clout and the dominance of the two or three governing parties would end immediately. The Westminster elite, so despised by the general public, would be destabilised as insurgent parties like the Greens, the SNP and Ukip would swarm the voting lobbies and bars in the House of Commons, challenging consensus and introducing radical proposals to freshen the place up.

However like first-past-the-post, the alternative vote has its constraints. Not least the fact that at the aforementioned referendum on whether to adopt an AV system, AV was beaten by FPTP two to one. It would be hardly in keeping with the spirit of the alternative vote system to force it on a resistant public.

Also, many supporters of FPTP argue that FPTP ensures a clear winner at every election and a stable government. Countries with alternative electoral systems like AV are normally beset by infighting as governments try to appease several different governing parties at once. The disagreements within the current coalition government are proof enough that the will of the nation is confused and messy and can set back the work of government.

The question is then: is potentially disrupted government and a difficult implementation worth bringing in an electoral system which almost guarantees politicians backed by 50% of voters? I think so, as democracy and the freedom of choice is worth the price of a few arguments politicians should learn to deal with.

Given the choice, I would vote for the Alternative Vote.

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One Response to ““Given the choice, I would vote for the Alternative Vote.””

  1. Stuart Fry

    Nov 12. 2014

    Absolutely spot on! FPTP is unfair, undemocratic and hugely outdated whereby the elected MP in your constituency is more often than not, disliked by the majority!

    AV is a step in the right direction but personally I would rather see proportional representation implemented, as is the case in European elections. A much fairer and representative system!

    I cannot believe the majority voted against electoral reform in the 2011 referendum. Although I know why this did occur; Labour and the Tories (the two parties that benefit from FTPT whilst the rest fall by the wayside) actually allied and co-funded the No campaign!

    Bot have significantly higher capital than any of the smaller parties what with the many rich individuals and businesses backing Tory and the trade unions backing Labour. Whilst the Lib Dems solely funded the Yes campaign, without any financial support from other parties and the Lib Dem coffers are nothing in comparison to a Tory/Labour co-funded campaign. Hence, the predominance of the No campaign in the media; the No campaign also leafleted the entire country, the same cannot be said for the yes campaign.

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