No to AV


                                                            First Person

                                                            Hugo Swire

Parliament is now in recess and the local election campaigns are in full swing. As is the AV referendum campaign.

So why will I be voting NO to change our voting system? First and foremost it is a complete waste of money. Do we really need a whole bureaucracy to try and explain it to people: millions of leaflets, advertising – we may even have to buy new electronic voting machines to make sense of it all. It’s estimated this would cost millions – surely that money is better spent in our hospitals and schools? Not forgetting the economic uncertainty it would create - It can take days to count ballots and even longer to form a Government under AV, unnerving and possibly destabilising for businesses and markets.

But AV is also an obscure system. Just three countries use it – Papua New Guinea, Fiji and Australia – and in Australian 6 out of 10 voters want to get rid of it! Compare that to our own First-Past-the-Post system, which is so simple, clear and decisive and used by 2.4 billion people around the world.

As for this idea being peddled about that it will fix our broken politics. What utter rubbish! AV will make no difference in current safe seats,such as the 225 seats where the winner got more than 50 per cent of the vote in 2010. Another 74 seats where the winner had a majority of more than 20 per cent would almost certainly also be safe under AV, making a total of at least 291 seats that would be completely unaffected

But more than anything, AV doesn’t work. Rather than the candidate who receives the most votes winning the election, the person who finished third could be declared the winner. Look at the winners of the 2011 Grand National: the horse that was first past the post and declared winner was Ballabriggs but under an AV system the 3rd horse could have collected the prize, incidentally that horse was called: Don’t push it!

With First Past the Post, everybody gets one vote. But under AV, supporters of extreme parties like the BNP would get their vote counted many times, while people who vote for one of the mainstream Labour or Conservative candidates would only get their vote counted once. Is that fairer? I don’t think so.

Here’s another example: AV meant that Labour didn’t get the leader they wanted.Ed Miliband only won the leadership election because of redistributed votes from failed candidates. In the first round Ed Miliband gained 34.33 per cent of the vote in comparison to his brother David who gained 37.78 per cent. Following the redistribution of votes, over 4 rounds the final result Ed Miliband had gained 50.65 per cent of the vote to David’s 49.35 per cent.  It is worth noting here that despite his public endorsement of AV Ed Miliband has not been able to convince his party of its merits, with over 200 Labour MPs and Peers signed up to the NO to AV campaign.

The other outcome of an AV system is that Hung Parliaments could become commonplace with more haggling and horse-trading between politicians. As the Prime Minister has said, while hung Parliaments can bring parties together in the national interest, as it did last May, the expectation of a hung parliament -- if it becomes the norm rather than exception -- would make Party manifestos irrelevant and cause more horse-trading between politicians, both before and after elections. No wonder the Liberal democrats favour it, they get to be the kingmakers, even when they are unelected to do so.

Or do they favour it? Most of the supporters of the AV only want it as a stepping stone to a system of proportional representation, which the Liberal Democrats pushed for in their manifesto. Once people are using AV, it will easier to abolish constituency boundaries and introduce PR.

Even Exeter’s other MP, Ben Bradshaw, who is heading up the YES campaign, said in a New Statesman article: “If one of the reasons that we want reform is to rebuild public trust and confidence in politics, make MPs more accountable, give more power to people and establish a political and parliamentary system that more reflects the will of the public, then AV doesn't deliver that.”

You know a campaign is nearing the finishing line when there are claims and counter claims of dirty tricks. George Osborne was accused last week of mudslinging. He dared to suggest that the Electoral Reform Society had motives of its own. The bare facts of this are that the YES campaign is indeed funded and staffed by the ERSwhose commercial arm prints ballot papers and postal ballots and could bid for more contracts under AV if it went ahead.They have also given the campaign over £1 million in donations. For a campaign that wants to clean up politics, it seems odd that they are bankrolled by a company that is both administering part of the referendum and potentially stands to gain lucrative contracts from it.

At the end of the day AV will not ensure a more representative parliament as some claim. We have a system in existence that is tried and tested and although not perfect is used the world over because it is easy to understand and administer. Why change it?