Rene Kinzett: Yes to AV

At Platform10 we are always willing to listen to and promote discussion. Today, we’re publishing two views on the alternative vote – this, from Rene Kinzett who wants us to vote yes. This morning, Phil Cane made the case for us to vote no.

When Gordon Brown found his long-lost reformist zeal just before the General Election, his proposals were hopelessly top-down and driven only by political expediency – a way of showing a bit of ankle to the Liberal Democrats in the hope of a post-election bunk-up. The Coalition Agreement and the Alternative Vote Referendum now offer us the chance for real change and such an opportunity will not re-present itself for decades to come.

That is not to say that “any reform is better than no reform” and I do want to engage in a sensible and informed debate about the problems associated with AV. But those who argue against reform must do more than attack AV (often using examples of some hybrid system used in obscure US local/judicial elections with no relevance to the UK proposals); they must tell us why FPTP is a system worthy of keeping.

There are those who argue that the Conservatives would have done worse under the AV system in 2010, but new polling from Lord Ashcroft has shown that the Party could actually do much better in marginal seats. Regardless of partisan advantage, I still see it as undemocratic that our 47 per cent seat share in the House of Commons is rather larger than our 36.1 per cent of the share of the popular vote.

AV is currently used to elect the Chairs of Select Committees in the House of Commons and for the Leadership of the Conservative Party. Interestingly if the Party Leadership elections of 1997, 2001 and 2005 had been fought under FPTP, the outcomes would have been Clarke, Portillo and Davis respectively. The AV nature of the contest meant that the eventual winners of those races (Hague, Duncan-Smith and Cameron) represented a broader cross-party view than those who came ahead in the first round of voting. If we can see the benefits of AV for selecting Commons Committee Chairs and for our own internal Party elections, why can’t we comprehend the advantage for the wider electorate when they come to vote for their MPs?

AV would also end “wasted” votes. Candidates campaigning against Labour incumbents from a third-place position have to endure countless bits of paper going through doors from the Liberal Democrats telling electors that a Tory vote would be a “wasted vote”. The instant run-off nature of AV allows electors to make a more sophisticated choice, expressing their support for the Party they support the most, then going on to make subsequent preferences which will only count if their first choice is “off the menu”, as it were. It is the ultimate “consumer is king” form of voting.

AV really does put the voter in a more prominent position in terms of exerting influence on incumbent MPs than the current FPTP. It encourages MPs and candidates to reach out into new parts of the electorate in order to earn second and subsequent preferences. In seats where MPs feel vulnerable to subsequent preferences, perhaps it would be incumbent upon them to build a dialogue with the supporters of their smaller opponents? The MP would simply no longer be able to ignore the 60 per cent or so of people who did not vote for them and every party really will have to work all year round!

The politics of the outcome of the 2010 General Election meant that David Cameron had to go against the instincts of many Conservatives and offer an historic referendum to give the British people the opportunity of gaining an electoral system with many more benefits than the current FPTP system. The chance for change is now upon us and we must seize moment and vote for reform.

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