Imagine the scene: ten friends gather together for a game of cards, one suggests that they get some cheese and biscuits. After some initial discussion (and much agreement that the idea is splendid) they put it to a vote. Mary and George vote for Goats Cheese, Sabine and Harold vote for Cheddar, Betty and Barry vote for Applewood, Margaret votes for Brie, whilst Terry, Gordon and Samantha aren’t hungry and vote for no food at all.
The results are as follows:
Goats Cheese: 2
If this were a general election in the UK, the vote for ‘nothing’ would win. First past the post is a one-round election which gives victory to whichever candidate receives the most votes. Sounds fair, right?
Wrong. Take a look at the results above. Another way of displaying the results could be thus:
Cheese and biscuits: 7
The overwhelming majority wanted cheese and biscuits, the problem was that their vote was split when it came to the fine details. Quite understandably they had opinions more complex than simply wanting cheese, they had preferences for specific cultivations, but through the distortions of the voting system, the majority was denied their consensus (cheese) simply because they wanted to express their precise opinion.
This is the problem the Alternative Vote system tries to address. It is not a proportional system, such grand reforms are beyond us for they would surely destroy the grip of the two main parties (you can’t get turkeys to vote for Christmas), but AV is a much better system than first past the post,
Nothing corrupts democracy more than a first past the post electoral system. This is because it erodes the point of elections: a moment in time when the people express their will on how they should be governed. This no longer happens in the UK. Instead, once every four years or so, the British public turn out to vote AGAINST policies, rather than for them. Doubt it? Take a look at any campaign literature in the run up to a General Election: ‘Only Labour can defeat the Tories here!’ ‘The Tories don’t have a chance, only the Liberal Democrats can stop Labour!’ and the such.
Our elections have become riddled with tactical voting as voters no longer believe in voting for the party they’d like, only to stop the party they despise. This approach soon infects the whole way they approach politics, always believing the worst and focusing on negative opposition.
And thus we find ourselves in the cynical mess we’re in today.
Tactical voting is not going to disappear in any non-proportional system, but AV gives the voter a chance to express a positive before they resort to the negative. This simple expression may not change who gets elected, but it does change the way we interact with politics. When entering a polling booth, the voter should think about what they WANT, not just what they hate, and AV would facilitate this.
Labour and the Conservative party fear such a change. They have thrived on nothing more than not being the other, encouraging hatred of their opposition, whilst bringing policies to within a wafer of each other to fight for those few voters disinterested enough not to buy into the hatred.
This homogenising of politics only reinforces apathy and negative voting. The only way to break it, is to change the system, and this is our only chance. In this series of articles I will look at the various aspects of the Alternative Vote, from cost to impact upon our parliament.
In Part 2, ‘AV around the world: A Tried and Tested System’.