A new voting system – is it really what Britain needs?

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

With 16 weeks to go before the nation makes a historic decision, the two camps put their cases and Paul Bignell invites leading advertising agencies to devise the billboard posters


YES

Paul Sinclair

Head of communications for Yes to Fairer Votes Campaign and former adviser to Gordon Brown

Our politics is broken and at its heart is an electoral system which is no longer fit for purpose. First past the post may work in a two-party state, but over the past few decades more and more voters have decided that they want a multi-party, multi-issue politics in the UK, and the system has failed to catch up.

In the 1950s, the two main parties were regularly supported by more than 90 per cent of voters. And that meant that back then, 86 per cent of MPs were elected with more than half of the vote in their communities.

But times have changed. The long-term trend from the 1970s has seen many of us decide to vote for a plurality of parties and causes. It was no blip when, in last May's election, only 65 per cent of voters supported either the Conservatives or the Labour Party. And that in turn has meant that now only 33 per cent of MPs elected in this Parliament have the support of a majority of the people they are seeking to represent.

Think about that for a moment. That means that two-thirds of our MPs were elected on less than 50 per cent of the vote. Most of us are represented by an MP that most of us didn't vote for. That is fundamentally undemocratic.

We need a system where those people who seek to represent us need the support of at least 50 per cent of their communities. That is what the alternative vote will force MPs to do. They will need to get a majority of votes in their constituencies. They will need to work harder and reach out beyond their core votes.

Opponents of AV do nothing to defend the current system. Instead they perpetrate myths about the alternative. AV will not mean more coalitions, for example. Australia has had fewer hung parliaments than the UK since it adopted AV. As the IPPR reported last week, the current system is going to make it harder to avoid hung parliaments.

AV, or a form of AV, is used by the House of Commons, most political parties and as broad a range of corporations and civic groups as you could imagine. If it is good enough for our MPs, why is it not good enough for the people who elect our MPs?

Some want greater reform, but AV is all we have on offer. It will retain the strengths of the current system, such as single-member constituencies, but make sure that our true preferences are reflected in our elections.

It is time to upgrade the system.

NO

Jane Kennedy

Former Labour MP and minister

Those who wish to change our electoral system have three main arguments. The first is that the alternative vote is a constitutional magic bullet that will make our electoral system inherently fair. The fact that supporters of minor parties may have their votes counted several times, while those supporting mainstream candidates have theirs counted once, is deemed fair. The fact that the candidate who comes third may actually be pronounced the winner is regarded as just. The fact that votes may switch back and forth, seemingly randomly, between numerous candidates on one ballot is apparently equitable.

The second argument is that it emancipates. It gives the electorate more control over those slippery politicians it elects. Except that the alternative vote embeds hung parliaments into the electoral system. Instead of having one coalition government every 40 or 50 years, we'll be virtually guaranteed one every four or five. Under that system, as we've seen, the doors close, and you and I are gently ushered out, while the politicians sit down to decide who will govern us, and under what prospectus. And under that system, the only vote that truly counts will be Nick Clegg's.

The final argument is its simplicity. Except that it's not very easy to comprehend. At the forthcoming Oldham and Saddleworth by-election, there will be 10 candidates. "As easy as one, two, three... er... four, five, six... er... seven, eight, nine... not done yet... 10." And be careful. Make sure you've ranked them in precisely the right order, or else that principled vote for the Greens may let the BNP slip through.

Oh and don't worry about the fact that you're not using a pen and paper any more, or popping your ballot by hand into one of those reassuringly battered old boxes. It takes too long to count under AV so we'll be using these shiny new electronic voting machines. Yes, like the ones they use in Florida. Places like that. They call it "black box" voting.

Of course it's a safe system. They use it in Papua New Guinea, Fiji and Australia. OK, they're the only three nations that do. But why not make Britain the fourth of this illustrious group?

Our current voting system isn't perfect. But we do know what we've got. Everybody gets one vote, and we know where that vote goes.

Defend one person one vote. Vote no to AV on 5 May.

News
A model of a Neanderthal man on display at the National Museum of Prehistory in Dordogne, France
science
News
Richard Dawkins dedicated his book 'The Greatest Show on Earth' to Josh Timonen
newsThat's Richard Dawkins on babies with Down Syndrome
Arts and Entertainment
Eye of the beholder? 'Concrete lasagne' Preston bus station
architectureWhich monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?
Extras
indybest
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Travel
Dinosaurs Unleashed at the Eden Project
travel
Arts and Entertainment
music
Sport
football
Life and Style
This month marks the 20th anniversary of the first online sale
techDespite a host of other online auction sites and fierce competition from Amazon, eBay is still the most popular e-commerce site in the UK
News
i100
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Quantitative Analyst (Financial Services, Graduate, SQL, VBA)

£45000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Quantitative Analyst (Financial Services, ...

Application Support Engineer (C++, .NET, VB, Perl, Bash, SQL)

Negotiable: Harrington Starr: Application Support Engineer (C++, .NET, VB, Per...

C# .NET Software Developer (Client-Side, SQL, VB6, WinForms)

Negotiable: Harrington Starr: C# .NET Software Developer (Client-Side, SQL, VB...

C# Developer (Genetic Algorithms, .NET 4.5, TDD, SQL, AI)

£40000 - £60000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Developer (...

Day In a Page

Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape
eBay's enduring appeal: Online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce retailer

eBay's enduring appeal

The online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce site
Culture Minister Ed Vaizey: ‘lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird’

'Lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird'

Culture Minister Ed Vaizey calls for immediate action to address the problem
Artist Olafur Eliasson's latest large-scale works are inspired by the paintings of JMW Turner

Magic circles: Artist Olafur Eliasson

Eliasson's works will go alongside a new exhibition of JMW Turner at Tate Britain. He tells Jay Merrick why the paintings of his hero are ripe for reinvention
Josephine Dickinson: 'A cochlear implant helped me to discover a new world of sound'

Josephine Dickinson: 'How I discovered a new world of sound'

After going deaf as a child, musician and poet Josephine Dickinson made do with a hearing aid for five decades. Then she had a cochlear implant - and everything changed
Greggs Google fail: Was the bakery's response to its logo mishap a stroke of marketing genius?

Greggs gives lesson in crisis management

After a mishap with their logo, high street staple Greggs went viral this week. But, as Simon Usborne discovers, their social media response was anything but half baked
Matthew McConaughey has been singing the praises of bumbags (shame he doesn't know how to wear one)

Matthew McConaughey sings the praises of bumbags

Shame he doesn't know how to wear one. Harriet Walker explains the dos and don'ts of fanny packs
7 best quadcopters and drones

Flying fun: 7 best quadcopters and drones

From state of the art devices with stabilised cameras to mini gadgets that can soar around the home, we take some flying objects for a spin
Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

The midfielder returned to the Premier League after two years last weekend. The controversial character had much to discuss after his first game back
Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

British No 1 knows his consistency as well as his fitness needs working on as he prepares for the US Open after a ‘very, very up and down’ year
Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

A descent into madness in America's heartlands

David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home