To vote or not to vote?

THERE’S a lot of talk about ‘AV’ at the moment.

No, we’re not talking about audio-visual or anti-viral or otherwise meaningless acronyms,  we’re talking about our chance,  on May 5,  to take part in shaping the future of general elections.

When Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg joined forces with prime minister David Cameron last year to form the coalition government, there was a catch:  the Conservatives would,  at some point,  have to consider a referendum on the Alternative Vote (AV).

Ballot papers are now dropping through letter boxes all over the country asking us to join the ‘Yes/No’ campaign, to cast our vote and potentially instigate huge political reform.

If enough people vote in favour of AV – a system whereby voters rank candidates in order of choice – it will overturn years of using the first past the post system, which historically favours only the strongest political parties.

AV is literally as simple as one, two, three.

If the referendum is passed, come the next general election, voters will be putting a one next to their favourite candidate and ranking the others accordingly, rather than placing a single cross in a box. 

The system means an election winner needs more than 50 per cent of the votes to be elected, providing what is widely considered to be a more accurate reflection of voter preferences.  

Seems fair, right?

Speaking at a ‘No to AV’ event last week, Mr Cameron told voters he felt in his “gut” that AV was wrong.

He said: “Politics shouldn’t be some mind-bending exercise. It’s about what you feel in your gut, about the values you hold dear and the beliefs you instinctively have.  And I just feel it,  in my gut, that AV is wrong.”

Mr Cameron went on to explain how AV “is obscure,  unfair,  expensive and it could mean people who come third in elections will end up winning”.

Under AV, the number ‘one’ votes for each candidate are put into a pile and counted.  If a candidate receives more than half the number one votes cast, they win.

If no candidate receives more than half the number one votes, there’s another round of counting where the candidate with the fewest number one votes is eliminated and their votes redistributed in accordance with the remaining rankings, thus ‘topping up’ the other candidates’ votes.

The process continues until one candidate has more than 50 per cent of the votes, but to explain it in terms we can all relate to, BBC Radio 4’s Today programme put AV to the test by asking 22 MPs to rank the best of British biscuits.

Chief political correspondent, Norman Smith, led the study, which found the chocolate digestive scored ten votes, garibaldi, one, jaffa cake, four, jammy dodgers, three, shortbread, three and rich tea, one.

No particular biscuit received 50 per cent of the votes, so the lowest scorers – the plain jane rich tea and the garibaldi – were knocked out and their votes redistributed.

As a result, the choccy-d got another vote, coming out as the overall winner, and thus, the ‘favourite’ among voters.

In political terms, the AV system is fairer overall but does immediately eliminate parties which tend to get a low number of votes.

High profile celebs like Joanna Lumley, Eddie Izzard and Colin Firth are all saying ‘yes’ to AV, claiming it will be a ‘once in a generation opportunity’ to alter democracy.

Castleford, Pontefract and Normanton MP, Yvette Cooper sees both sides of the argument.

She said: “I’m voting for AV as I think on balance it gives people more chance to express all their preferences and means MPs need the support of more than half their constituents to get elected.

“But there are merits on both sides and no voting system is perfect. At least both AV and first past the post keep the link between MPs and constituencies as that is really important for holding MPs to account.

“However I think this is the wrong time to have this referendum. Most people I talk to are rightly far more concerned about what’s happening to jobs, the police and hospital, and I’m concentrating on that rather than AV.”

Political opinion aside, May 5 gives voters a genuine choice, and it’s up to us to decide.

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