Leading article: The referendum campaign on voting reform has begun. Does it matter?

Share
Related Topics

Yesterday, the curtain was raised on the official campaign in support of a Yes vote in the referendum on the alternative vote on 5 May. Many will be tempted to ask: why should we care? The headlines are crowded with urgent matters of life and death. Japan is experiencing a nuclear emergency. The rebellion in Libya is reaching a crucial stage. There is turmoil across the wider Arab world. And here at home, we are about to experience the most severe spending cuts in a generation.

So why should we care about whether or not our ballot papers allow us to list candidates in order of preference at general elections? Is this not irrelevant to people's real lives, a preoccupation of political anoraks? Apathy is an understandable reaction but it is a misguided one. We should care about this referendum because it is a chance to inaugurate a new, more fully representative political era.

This newspaper's campaign for electoral reform began after the 2005 general election, when Labour won a double-digit majority with the support of just 35 per cent of those who voted. We are used to a winner-takes-all politics in Britain, but that stretched the definition of "winner" almost to destruction. Tens of thousands of you – our readers – signed our petition calling for a fairer voting system. The extent and passion of your feedback made it clear to us that the Prime Minister at the time, Tony Blair, was desperately wrong when he argued that there was "no appetite" among the British people for a change to our voting system.

AV is not the reform that we would have chosen. It is not a proportional system. And under certain circumstances it might mean even bigger landslides. AV would erode, but not eliminate, the problem of "safe" seats. Yet it would mean a more representative House of Commons and a much less restrictive voting system.

The democratic contract between MPs and constituents would be strengthened since politicians would only be returned to Westminster if they enjoyed the support of a majority of their constituents. And the curse of the first-past-the-post system – the argument that a vote for a smaller party is "wasted" – would be eliminated at a stroke, because the second preference votes of lower-placed candidates would be reallocated if the first count failed to produce a clear winner. The public will be able to vote for the person they want to represent them (as their first preference) without having to agonise about whether they are effectively disenfranchising themselves if they choose a candidate representing a smaller party.

The arguments of the AV opponents are generally weak and misleading. But they keep coming. The former Labour cabinet minister, John Reid, argued yesterday that AV gives the supporters of minority parties "more of a say" in elections than the supporters of mainstream parties. Yet Mr Reid has nothing to say about the gross unfairness of the present system, which often denies those who fail to back one of the larger parties any influence whatsoever on the outcome.

It is assumed that AV would boost the parliamentary representation of the Liberal Democrats. But the merit of this reform is not that it would benefit any individual political party, but rather its impact on the overall political landscape. Those arguing for business as usual fail to recognise the extent of the disaffection of voters with the status quo, which has yielded an unhealthy disconnection between the political classes and the broad mass of the public. The public reaction to the 2009 MPs' expenses scandal merely exposed a gulf that was already there. AV is an opportunity to begin to bridge it.

The public are already rebelling against the present two-party voting straitjacket. In the 1950s, 95 per cent of voters cast their ballots for Labour or the Conservatives. In 2010, just 65 per cent did so. The doors to political reform have been prised open by the 2010 election result, which delivered a hung parliament and the agreement to stage this referendum. Now is the time for the British people to fling those doors to a better politics wide open by rejecting apathy and voting Yes to AV.

KEY LINKS:

React Now

Latest stories from i100
SPONSORED FEATURES
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive or Senior Sales Executive - B2B Exhibitions

£18000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Executive or Senior Sal...

Recruitment Genius: Head of Support Services

£40000 - £55000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Warehouse Team Leader

£22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This industry leading company produces h...

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Manager / Sales - OTE £40,000

£20000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This IT provider for the educat...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Errors & Omissions: the strange case of the errant royal pronoun

Guy Keleny
Flowers and candles are placed at the site where a refrigerated truck with decomposing bodies was found by an Austrian motorway  

EU migrant crisis: The 71 people found dead in a lorry should have reached sanctuary

Charlotte Mcdonald-Gibson
The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

The honours that shame Britain

Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

International Tap Festival comes to the UK

Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

BBC heads to the Californian coast

The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

Car hacking scandal

Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
10 best placemats

Take your seat: 10 best placemats

Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory
Ashes 2015: Alastair Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Aussie skipper Michael Clarke was lured into believing that what we witnessed at Edgbaston and Trent Bridge would continue in London, says Kevin Garside
Can Rafael Benitez get the best out of Gareth Bale at Real Madrid?

Can Benitez get the best out of Bale?

Back at the club he watched as a boy, the pressure is on Benitez to find a winning blend from Real's multiple talents. As La Liga begins, Pete Jenson asks if it will be enough to stop Barcelona
Athletics World Championships 2015: Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jessica Ennis-Hill and Katarina Johnson-Thompson heptathlon rivalry

Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jess and Kat rivalry

The last time the two British heptathletes competed, Ennis-Hill was on the way to Olympic gold and Johnson-Thompson was just a promising teenager. But a lot has happened in the following three years
Jeremy Corbyn: Joining a shrewd operator desperate for power as he visits the North East

Jeremy Corbyn interview: A shrewd operator desperate for power

His radical anti-austerity agenda has caught the imagination of the left and politically disaffected and set a staid Labour leadership election alight
Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief: Defender of ancient city's past was killed for protecting its future

Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief

Robert Fisk on the defender of the ancient city's past who was killed for protecting its future