Wednesday, 4 May 2011

Why I'm voting Yes

To be quite honest, we're probably going to lose this referendum, and we're probably going to lose it badly. It's mainly a combination of the dirty tactics of the No campaign, and a poorly-run Yes campaign. The latest poll is predicting that nearly 70% will vote No, with a measly 30% voting for change. Having spent some of today wallowing in self-pity, I'm not one to go down without a fight. Here's my rambly summary of the main reasons I'm voting Yes tomorrow.


1. Because it allows you to vote for who you want
Under the current system, it's a two-horse race in most constituencies. For many, the real choice is between two parties, often the Conservatives and Labour. That's why we get those horrible election leaflets with graphs which declare things like 'Labour can't win here' or 'Only the Lib Dems can keep out the Conservatives'. As a result, many people who would like to support a smaller party feel they have to pick the least-worst option from the larger parties in order to keep out the candidate who they definitely don't want to see win the seat. For example, someone who wants to vote Green might end up voting Labour to prevent the Conservative candidate winning, or a UKIP supporter might feel they have to vote Conservative to prevent the Lib Dem winning. Since under AV you rank the candidates in order of preference, you can put the candidate as your first preference who you would like to win in an ideal world. With your second preference you may like to be more pragmatic, and choose between one of the main parties. Under FPTP, voting for a small party or independent means in almost all cases your vote is wasted, under AV it means you can still have an impact on the outcome of the election, as your second, third (etc) preferences allow you to influence the candidate who will actually become your MP. In short, it takes away the fear of voting for smaller parties and allows people to exercise their democratic right without fear of wasting their time.


2. It makes candidates care about the majority
Most MPs are elected with less than 50% of the vote. This means that more people wanted someone else than wanted them. For example, a constituency may have majority support for left leaning parties, but this vote is split between Labour, the Lib Dems, Greens, etc. Therefore, due to the vote being split, the Conservative candidate can win more easily despite the majority of people in the constituency not wanting them to win. So long as the opposition vote is split, the candidate can count on his loyal party supporters to elect him. Under AV, a candidate will not be successful unless they have 50% of the vote. This makes them branch out and gain support from a broader group than just their party die-hards.


3. It gives a signal to parties of the extent of their support
Those candidates who don't win 50% of the vote and therefore get elected on the basis of the preferences of other voters will be aware of where the preferences come from. By collecting this data, the major parties can see what sort of issues are causing voters to put other parties as their first choice. For example, it may be common for Green Party supporters to put Labour as their second choice. If many Labour MPs are reliant upon the second preferences of Green supporters to win, it is an indication to the party's leadership and electoral strategists that they need to be receptive of public opinion and, by adapting their policies to be more eco-friendly and supportive of equality, they could increase their chances of winning outright with 50% of first preference votes. Similarly, many Conservative candidates may find that they are being carried through by UKIP second preferences - this will provide an indication to them that by offering a referendum on the EU, they can gain greater support and increase their electoral chances. This may all sound a bit wooly and overly-focused on strategy, but it could be a good way to ensure that large parties remain in-touch with public opinion. Currently, their level of support is exaggerated by people supporting the main parties due to feeling that voting for smaller parties is pointless, AV can fix this.

4. Because I support future reform.
One of the more odd arguments I've seen used by some No campaigners is that they're voting against this reform because they want a proportional system like AV Plus, STV, or Party List. Here's a quick exchange of this fuzzy logic on Facebook which I think illustrates the point. I'm not sure whether Hewitt supports a proportional system and is therefore upset that the referendum is on AV rather an a PR system, or whether he is defending FPTP by trying to make Alan Johnson look hypocritical by posting past quotes from him:


(I don't know who this Andrew bloke is, but I don't feel there's an issue with posting a screenshot here because he posted on the public Yes page.)

As a supporter of further reform beyond the introduction of AV, I can't understand why anyone would think voting No in this referendum would help them in their fight for a proportional system. Even if you don't accept that AV is a better system than FPTP, surely it must be clear that if we turn down electoral reform now, it's blocking the chance for future reform on two fronts. Firstly, it gives the Conservatives a massive mandate to block referendums on reform - if there are more coalitions in future (which, given consistent voting trends, there will be), the Tories can simply refuse to accept any referendums on the voting system as part of their coalition agreement negotiations. They only accepted an AV referendum out of desperation, and they did so reluctantly. If we declare that we oppose changing to AV, we're giving the Conservatives a public mandate to point out that we don't want reform, and give them the opportunity to deride any party which pursues as it as not listening to the will of the people and stop wasting time. Similarly, with Ed Miliband as the new Labour leader, there's a chance to put future reform back on the agenda. Blair conveniently brushed it under the carpet after the 1997 election, and now is our chance to put it back on the agenda by showing that there's a desire for change and that parties who promise that change are more likely to get our votes. Turning down AV sends a signal to left-wing parties that tells them not to bother putting electoral reform referendums in their manifesto. No party will want to vehemently support further voting system referendums if we've roundly rejected it the last time we had the chance. Ed Miliband has recently said that a No vote would throw electoral reform back off the agenda for some time, which effectively means that voting No now is going to guarantee that electoral reform won't be in the next Labour manifesto. A yes vote, on the other hand, would encourage further reform.

Moreover, it wouldn't be massive task to adopt the proportional system of AV Plus after having already adopted AV. That would certainly be a far smaller jump than going from FPTP to AV. This retains the constituency AV elections, but also adds a regional proportional element similar to that used in the European Parliament elections. The end result is that the number of seats each party gets in Parliament closely matches the proportion of the vote they received.

So when I see Lord Owen's No to AV, Yes to PR campaign, I am befuddled. Does he really think that politicians will take notice of this very small group, and suddenly decide that because a tiny minority of those voting against AV did so in the hope of a proportional system, we should have another referendum, this time on a proportional system which the Conservatives find even less desirable? This group reminds me of children - they haven't got exactly what they wanted, so they've decided to stamp their feet and vote no until someone comes along and offers them what they wanted. People like David Owen have been clamouring for reform for decades, and when the opportunity finally comes along, he's telling people they should vote no because it's not the system he wants. Perhaps someone can explain the concept of compromise to him.

In short, if you want future reform, your best bet is to vote Yes in this referendum. Voting no tells the parties to throw the issue firmly back into the long grass.


5. Because the No2AV campaign convinced me
I don't want to ramble on again about how deplorable the No campaign is - if you're interested, please read my previous post. Interestingly, when I first started looking into AV, I did so more impartially. It is the No campaign's incredibly weak arguments; near-total reliance on Conservative donors; and their outright misinformation and lies which have made it clear that there is no valid argument to defend First Past the Post. Even the weak age-old argument of producing strong, decisive, unified governments is now nullified by the consistent change in voting trends which make that outcome less and less likely.

Put simply, if you vote No, you're telling politicians they can get their way even when they: make up unsubstantiated figures, tell you you're too stupid to cope with counting, and rely on wealthy Conservative businessmen for money. The main reason the Yes campaign has struggled to get off the ground as well as the No lobby is a lack of funding and an unwillingness to lie.

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If you want a more democratic and fairer electoral system, please get out and vote Yes tomorrow. This isn't the time to vote against reform simply to upset Clegg. It's the time to think long-term about what you want from politics. If you want greater democracy, more chance to have your say, more engaged MPs, and a real chance at future reform, please get out and vote Yes tomorrow. We cannot afford to miss this opportunity and delay reform for decades once again.

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