On the 5th May we have a once in a lifetime opportunity. We can vote Yes to change the way we elect our members of parliament, or we can vote No to keep our current ‘first past the post’ system.

I will be voting Yes.

The method we use for choosing the people who represent us in parliament isn’t a bad one… but it was designed for a different world from the one we live in today. A century ago, when the majority of people were only offered a choice between two parties, first past the post made perfect sense. There was one winner with more than half the votes… and one loser with fewer than half the votes.

In 2011, we have more choice. Unfortunately, our current voting system means that there are many MP’s sat in the House of Commons who have the support of less than 35% of the people they claim to represent. If you were starting from scratch, would you design an electoral system that way? Of course you wouldn’t.

Next week we can vote Yes and upgrade to a more modern system – the Alternative Vote. Whilst the No campaign will tell you that its fiendishly complicated… it’s not.

To become an MP under AV, you need to get over 50% of the votes. You can’t take up your seat without the support of the majority of your constituents. Of course for some politicians, especially the 35% ones, this is very inconvenient. They will have to work much harder to keep their seats. (violins anyone?)

The process is simple. Instead of scrawling a single X against a candidate at the next general election, we will be able to rank the candidates in order – 1 in the box next to our first choice, 2 against the second and so on. You can vote for as many, or as few choices as you want.

The votes get counted and if a candidate gets more than 50% of the first choices then they have won.

If no-one has a majority the least popular candidate gets eliminated (X factor style) and there’s another vote… Luckily we don’t have to do the whole turning up at the ballot box thing again because we were smart enough to put our preferences in order. So if your first choice isn’t in the race anymore then you’ve already told the counters who you would vote for in the next round. If your first choice is still in the race then your vote counts for them again in the next round.

Its then rinse and repeat until someone gets 50% and they win.

OK… it is slightly more complicated than first past the post…. but it’s no more complicated than the X factor.

Under our current system, you win by being just a little bit less crap than the others. I don’t think thats good enough. By voting Yes we get a modern system which favours politicians who can prove they will represent a majority of their constituents – not just the minority who voted for them under a system designed for a long-gone age.

I said at the beginning of this post that it’s a once-in-a-lifetime chance. Referendums are rare – the last one was in 1975. First past the post is already past its sell-by date. If the polls are right and a majority of people vote No next week then we will be stuck with it for at least another generation. Please don’t let that happen.



only 1 comment until now

  1. Hi Jim,

    I too am voting Yes. It wasn’t an easy decision and for a long time I was going to spoil my paper.

    I don’t want that weasely turncoat Clegg to benefit from my actions.

    I don’t particularly think AV is the right answer.

    BUT I don’t want to leave us stuck with FPTP for another generation because it doesn’t give us governments that come close to being representative of the popultion’s wishes.

    So I am voting Yes to encourage change and to show that there is a place for referendums and that the vote matters. My hope is that in 10 or 20 years time there will be another referendum that materially improves our representation in govt. My fear is that a No to AV will be taken as a Yes to FPTP and we’ll be stuck with it forever.

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