John Healey MP: Vote reform would benefit only BNP, Ukip and Lib Dems

Wednesday 16 March 2011 01:00

As we move closer to referendum day on 5 May, the momentum for a "No" vote is gathering pace. Some are happy with the voting system we have. Others do want a change but see the proposed Alternative Vote (AV) as a step backwards. Others think the whole thing is a waste of time and money.

The reason the number of Labour MPs in favour of a "No" vote runs into three figures is because we haven't been persuaded that AV is an upgrade to the voting system. The arguments just don't stack up.

A referendum on AV should be a long way down our political priorities. David Cameron knew he had to offer Nick Clegg something to get a coalition deal and so here we are, being asked to vote for an electoral system that could produce results less fair and proportional than the one we have now.

Our democracy has been built on one person, one vote. Under AV people who back the likes of the BNP and Ukip would have several bites of the cherry, transferring their votes between candidates. People who back mainstream candidates would have their voices heard just once. We could expect more votes (or first preferences) going to fringe candidates and we could also witness the unedifying prospect of the major parties chasing transfers from racist, bigoted, eccentric and single-issue candidates.

AV has been rejected the world over, except for in three countries. More often than not, it would produce a hung House of Commons. The people would lose their right to throw one government out and put another in. They would be handing this power to Nick Clegg and the Liberal Democrats – the kingmakers in any hung parliament.

Immediately after an election the parties would be scrambling to do coalition deals. They would feel free to jettison policies that had been firm pledges only a week earlier. This isn't the new type of politics people have been calling for. They want politics that treats them with respect, not as fools.

I want to see Labour back in government, the people to have a fair chance at electing Labour and to see politics done in a better way. The last thing we should do is throw away what works in favour of an unfair, perverse electoral system. Politicians should be seeking the trust of voters, not encouraging them to move the goalposts.

John Healey is the Labour MP for Wentworth and Dearne, and shadow Secretary of State for Health

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