strange_complex: (Asterix Romans)
Well then. For what it's worth, after the initial disbelief and disappointment, my basic response to the referendum result is the 'rolling up my sleeves and getting on with it' one. I won't be at all sorry if for one reason or another we never actually do end up leaving the EU - e.g. if the country ends up in such a deep economic, political and / or constitutional mess that Article 50 is never invoked. But I'm not pinning my hopes on that, and I'm certainly not signing any petitions calling for a new referendum under different rules (though I don't at all mind other people signing that petition as a way of registering the extent of disappointment and anger in the country). Rather, I now want to focus on trying to make this country the best place it can possibly be, given the hand we are now holding.

[That said, I think I will have a go at claiming the Irish (and therefore EU) citizenship to which I am perfectly entitled by dint of having an Irish grandmother - though it won't be a trivial process. As far as I can tell, I'll need no less than nine original copies of birth / marriage / death certificates and certified passports, including one (the original birth certificate on which the whole thing rests) which would have been issued in County Sligo in (I think) 1912. Yikes!]

Anyway, going back to making this country the best place it can possibly be, living through the entire referendum process has certainly done a lot to reaffirm my liberalism. Two main issues stand out, both connected, and both of which strongly reinforce (for me) the essential core of liberalism - a concern with excessive concentrations of power, and a desire to break them down and redistribute it.

Firstly, the power concentrated into the hands of people like Paul Dacre and Richard Desmond. For decades now, newspapers like the Daily Mail and Daily Express have been publishing front-page lies and hatred about both immigrants and the EU, while inadequate bodies for press regulation have failed to challenge them, and, on the rare occasions when they were were successfully challenged, they have only needed to publish retractions in tiny print on the inside pages of the papers. Meanwhile, the requirement on the broadcast media to provide balanced political coverage is interpreted as an instruction to give equal air-time to voices on either side, rather than to challenge lies themselves or identify any kind of prevailing consensus. This approach has been characterised by some as "Shape of the Earth: views differ".

At first sight, it may seem illiberal to restrict the freedom of the press, but the press is in any case not currently free from powerful individuals seeking to propagate lies for their own financial or political gain. More fundamentally, a democracy (which is a tool for distributing political freedom) cannot function properly if the people who live in it do not have access to accurate and impartial information on which to base their voting decisions. See e.g. Russia or North Korea for details. And it is very clear indeed that in this referendum (as also in the AV referendum five years ago), people voted on the basis of claims which were untrue, while any attempts by moderate people to counter those claims, or the decades worth of misinformation and bigotry which they tapped into, were hopelessly drowned out by the power of the tabloid press. If that press had been properly regulated years ago, this might not have happened.

Secondly, the power concentrated into the hands of the 'big two' political parties by our First Past The Post voting system. One of the most common arguments against proportional political systems is that they allow members of extremist parties to win seats at elections. But in my view, this is a good thing. Once a party's representatives have been elected to office, they are subject to the white light of accountability. If they implement policies which turn out to be disastrous, or fail to deliver on their promises, they will lose their popularity and be voted out again. In my view, we would be much better off today if UKIP had started winning council seats and parliamentary seats in serious numbers twenty years ago. Then, people might have had the chance to discover that they are a bunch of self-interested con-merchants while the damage they could inflict was still relatively limited, and before we arrived at the almighty mess we are in now.

Furthermore, most proportional voting systems, but especially the Single Transferable Vote, make politicians much more accountable to the electorate than FPTP. Safe seats largely disappear, parties campaign meaningfully against one another in all parts of the country, and voters can choose between individual members of the same party, based on nuanced preferences (e.g. liking Blairite Labour candidates but not Corbynistas), without harming that party's overall political prospects. I believe that if we had been using STV already for decades, the main parties would not have been able to get away with parachuting their favoured candidates into seats where voters were not being presented with any meaningful alternative option. Then, we would not have the huge yawning gap between the electorate and their supposed representatives which seems to have contributed to enough of that electorate deciding to use the EU referendum to deliver them a kicking in return for years of neglect and dismissal. Under STV, parties would have had an incentive to develop real solutions to the problems which older working-class voters are trying to express, rather than just telling them it's all the fault of immigrants and the EU. Even UKIP would probably have evolved into a more responsive, solution-focused party, rather than the fantasists they are.

If you've been nodding along while reading the above, and would like to help solve these problems for the future, here are some things you could do (if you haven't already):

1. Join Hacked Off, who are campaigning for a free and accountable press. It's free to sign their declaration or sign up for campaign bulletins, though of course they would love donations too.

2. Join the Electoral Reform Society, Unlock Democracy and / or Make Votes Matter, all of which are campaigning in different ways and with different emphases to improve our political system. It's £24 p.a. (or less for concessions) to join the ERS and Unlock Democracy, and free (though again donations welcome) to join Make Votes Matter.

3. Join the Liberal Democrats. I know we're far from perfect. We too have floundered in the white light of accountability. But we are the only political party in the UK which stands fundamentally and explicitly for the liberal principles I have discussed above. If you'd like to know more about what we think we stand for, read the preamble to our constitution. The final paragraph (beginning "Our responsibility for justice and liberty cannot be confined by national boundaries...") explains why we have always been, and will always remain, committed to collaborative international organisations like the EU.

4. Join any other political party. Yes, even UKIP (though I hope you'll prefer not to). Because the more people in this country are members of political parties, the smaller the gulf and the better the dialogue between politicians and the electorate.

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strange_complex: (Me Yes to Fairer Votes)
So I assume we all know by now that Tory party co-treasurer Peter Cruddas has been caught out by the Sunday Times offering businesses direct personal access to David Cameron for a minimum donation of £100,000. This BBC news article has the video if you haven't seen it. And just to be absolutely clear that this is not simply a matter of a few hand-shakes and photo-ops, let's take particular notice of this phrase from Cruddas' sales-pitch:
"If you're unhappy about something, we will listen to you and put it into the policy committee at number 10 - we feed all feedback to the policy committee."

Lobbying is a perfectly normal part of a functional and healthy democracy. It's what you do when you write to your MP, what campaign groups like Equal Marriage do when they organise petitions, and what business leaders do when they arrange meetings with ministers to express their concerns about current government policy. The problem with cases like the current Peter Cruddas scandal is that access to policy-makers is being arranged behind closed doors and being used as a money-making exercise which excludes those who can't afford to pay for it from the process.

This is why a full, robust and transparent lobbying register is needed, so that we can all see who exactly is talking to ministers, how much they are paying for the privilege and what they are saying.

As it happens, prompted by previous scandals of this nature, the government has recently published proposals for such a register. But their proposals represent a poor shadow of what's actually needed for real transparency, covering only lobbying done by agencies (roughly a quarter of the industry) and not directly by firms' in-house lobbyists (the other three-quarters), and recording only the minimum level of information about their meetings. This is why Unlock Democracy are currently campaigning for a full and effective lobbying register to be introduced, rather than the sop which is currently on the table.

If you'd like to lend your voice to that campaign, please take two minutes to sign Unlock Democracy's letter calling for a full lobbying register here.

You can also read more about their campaign, including details on how to contribute directly to the public consultation on lobbying, here.

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strange_complex: (Me Yes to Fairer Votes)
Tomorrow is the day of the AV referendum, and I know some people are still making up their minds how to vote. I've explained my own reasons for supporting AV in a previous post. But if you're still unsure today, allow me to put the case for the Alternative Vote in the clearest way I can.

Basically, First Past The Post is fine for binary decisions: e.g. Cake or Death? But if Chocolate is offered too, the 'We just want to live!' vote may be split, allowing Death to win. (Unlikely, of course, but who knows? There may be a lot of suicidal people living in your constituency.)

In the real world, FPTP was fine in the 1950s, when most voters were making a binary choice. In 1951, 97% of people voted either Conservative or Labour – so most MPs (94%, to be precise) were able to win a clear majority of support in their constituency. But in 2010, only 65% of people voted Conservative or Labour. Our votes are now spread across a wider range of parties – and the result is that two-thirds of MPs in the House of Commons today hold less than 50% of the total vote in their constituency. They've secured the largest minority, but do they have the support of the majority? We don't know, because FPTP doesn't check that.

At its worst, FPTP has allowed BNP candidates to be elected in some council seats because the majority non-BNP vote was split. Someone on Facebook posted this image of the results from Coalville ward in Leicestershire:

But it's not the only case of its kind. See also Mixenden in Calderdale, Mill Hill in Blackburn, or Fenside in Boston, Lincolnshire.

The extremist nature of the BNP means it isn't hard to imagine that the majority of the voters in these wards did not actually want a BNP councillor. But because the non-BNP-supporting majority spread their votes across a variety of other candidates, that's what they got.

The wider point about FPTP is that any candidate who wins on less than 50% of the vote may be just as loathed by the majority of their constituents as (we can guess that) these BNP councillors were. But FPTP doesn't check up on this by probing the views of the split majority. AV resolves this problem by eliminating trailing candidates one at a time, bringing split votes for similar candidates back together, and identifying a majority consensus. Put simply, it is a way of double-checking that the result which we would have had under FPTP really reflects what the majority want.

Further discussion for politics geeks of what the BNP examples reveal about the problems with tactical voting under FPTP )

So if you want a system which:
  • Ensures that each constituency elects an MP whom the majority of the voters there really support.
  • Prevents widely hated candidates from winning because the majority vote against them was split.
  • Allows people to express their preferences honestly, without having to make (imperfect) guesses about how other people will vote.
  • Deals with those preferences systematically and in the best interests of the individual voter, no matter what other voters do.
...please say Yes to AV this Thursday.

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strange_complex: (Me Yes to Fairer Votes)
This is an assessment of all the main possible methods for electing national governments, written by a lecturer at the University of Reading with the explicit aim of making "the findings of research on electoral systems available to a wider audience ahead of the referendum in the UK planned for May 2011." A fellow Yes campaigner recommended it to me at the beginning of this year as a balanced, rigorous and accessible guide to the main strengths and weaknesses of both First Past the Post and the Alternative Vote, so that I'd be equipped to argue about both intelligently in the course of the referendum campaign - and it has certainly provided that extremely effectively. Not only that, but the timing of the publication means that the author wrote it in the full knowledge that a referendum on the issue was going to be taking place, so that he was able to draw on up-to-date material such as the outcome of the 2010 General Election and comment on up-to-date issues such as the planned constituency boundary changes. So although the book actually goes beyond simply FPTP vs. AV, it is particularly well-geared to the current debate between the two, and examines them with the specific circumstances of the referendum in mind.

Overall structure and approach )

First Past The Post )

The Alternative Vote )

Simple Proportional Representation and Mixed electoral systems )

The Single Transferable Vote )

Obviously, it would probably have been helpful if I'd got round to reviewing this book a little earlier than 10 days before the referendum, so that anyone interested in reading Renwick's views for themselves could have had time to buy their own copy and read it before putting their cross on the ballot paper. But thankfully, Renwick's views on AV specifically are readily available online in the form of this briefing paper produced for the Political Studies Association. I can recommend it very highly to anyone wanting a properly balanced account of the arguments. Like the book, his assessment of the various strengths and weaknesses of AV as compared to FPTP in the paper is balanced, nuanced and objective. But the fairly clear conclusion to me is that AV is a small but measurable improvement on FPTP - and therefore worth having.

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strange_complex: (Me Yes to Fairer Votes)
Now that my conference paper is done and I am less ludicrously busy, I'm turning my attention firmly back towards the Yes to Fairer Votes campaign. I've written a fair bit on this journal about my involvement with the campaign, but I haven't yet said very much about why I'm so convinced that a change to AV is worthwhile. I did use the example of the Oldham East and Saddleworth by-election back in January to explain why I think AV enhances the dialogue between voters and prospective candidates, which is certainly one good reason for making the change. But there is much more to say than that alone.

I could, of course, write a long rambling post which attempted to cover all of the reasons why I am supporting a change to AV - not to mention the many, many things which are wrong with FPTP (not all of which AV will fix), or with the No to AV campaign. Believe me, there are plenty of arguments to go into, and I've used most of them during the 1000 or more phone-calls which I've now made for the Yes to Fairer Votes campaign. But many of them have also been rehearsed elsewhere. In the more personal context of my own journal, I've decided instead to whittle things down to the single strongest argument which is convincing me to support a change to AV, and focus on writing about that.

So, are you ready for this?

The most straightforward, truthful and accurate statement of why I am campaigning for a Yes vote in the May 5th referendum?

OK - here we go:
The Alternative Vote is better than First Past the Post at identifying the Condorcet winner in each constituency election contest

That really is my genuine, number one reason for supporting the change. To me, it's the most persuasive argument. Unfortunately, it also isn't an argument I can use when campaigning. That small percentage of the population who have read up on the subject and know what the Condorcet criterion is might well nod sagely and agree with me - and believe me, I've been hanging out with a lot of those sorts of people in the context of the campaign! But most people would just greet me with a blank look. Should you wish to know more, however, read on... )

So that's me, and those are my real reasons for voting Yes to AV. As I've said, they aren't necessarily the reasons which are most effective in an actual debate. For most people, saying that I prefer AV because it is better at FPTP at identifying the Condorcet winner in each constituency is meaningless. And even if they're prepared to listen to me explaining it, I still have to acknowledge that that will only achieve a relatively modest improvement in the electoral system, and that AV isn't perfect at identifying the Condorcet winner itself anyway. But nonetheless, that is an honest statement of what is convincing me.

What's really important when I debate the issue with people on the phone is that my own core of conviction is solidly in place. From there, I can leave all talk of Condorcet winners behind, and concentrate on the arguments which are actually accessible and persuasive. It's nothing like as difficult as this post might make it appear. :-)

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strange_complex: (Me Yes to Fairer Votes)
If you're within striking distance of Leeds and free this coming Saturday afternoon, our local Yes to Fairer Votes group is having a balloon release on the Town Hall steps at 3pm.

It'll basically be similar to what we did at the bonfire in November, except with balloons instead of fireworks. We have a helium canister and we're not afraid to use it!

The more people we can get crowding around looking interested, the better - so do come along and pose with 'Yes!' speech-bubbles, take photos of us or just enjoy looking at the pretty balloons (they are purple, of course!).

We're particularly keen to get as many photographers as possible down there. We've invited some local press photographers, but this should be a fun event for keen amateurs to take pictures of - and obviously we would absolutely love it if dozens of pictures of us all holding our 'Yes!' banners got uploaded to Flickr, Facebook and the like in the aftermath of the release. Anything to help spread the word!

Hope to see some of the local crowd there on Saturday - and I'm sure there will be pictures available afterwards for those who aren't able to come along in person.

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strange_complex: (Me Yes to Fairer Votes)
I'm still busy campaigning away for Yes to AV, and will probably write more about the local campaign soon. But today I'd like to take a little time to point out why the Alternative Vote can deliver clearer messages to politicians about what voters actually want than First-Past-The-Post, using the example of this week's by-election in Oldham East & Saddleworth.

This by-election came about because the man who won the seat at the General Election, Phil Woolas (Labour), was found guilty of knowingly telling lies about his closest opponent, Elwyn Watkins (LibDem) in his election literature. The judges ordered a re-run of the election, and Woolas was suspended from the Labour party.

The resulting by-election attracted a great deal of media scrutiny, and prompted very sustained campaigning efforts from both the Liberal Democrats and Labour: the latter now headed by a replacement candidate, Debbie Abrahams. And the basic reason for all of this was that by-election results are normally seen as diagnostic - a sort of mid-term barometer reading on how all of the political parties involved are doing in the eyes of the electorate as a whole.

So what data has the result yielded, and what can it tell politicians about what voters are thinking? Let's compare the detailed results in OE&S from May 2010 and January 2011:

May 2010 - Turnout: 44,520 (61.2%) +4.4

CandidatePartyTotal votes Percentage % change
Phil WoolasLabour14,18631.9-10.7
Elwyn Watkins  Liberal Democrat14,08331.6-0.5
Kashif AliConservative11,77326.4+8.7
Alwyn StottBritish National Party2,5465.7+0.6
David BentleyUK Independence Party  1,7203.9+1.8
Gulzar NazirChristian Party2120.5+0.5

January 2011 - Turnout: 34,930 (48.0%) −13.1

CandidatePartyTotal votes Percentage % change
Debbie AbrahamsLabour14,71842.1+10.2
Elwyn WatkinsLiberal Democrat11,16031.9+0.3
Kashif AliConservative4,48112.8-13.6
Paul NuttallUK Independence Party  2,0295.8+1.9
Derek AdamsBritish National Party1,5604.5-1.2
Peter AllenGreen5301.5N/A
Nick "The Flying Brick" Delves Monster Raving Loony1450.4N/A
Stephen MorrisEnglish Democrats1440.4N/A
Loz KayePirate960.3N/A
David BishopBus-Pass Elvis670.1N/A

Firstly, overall turnout was lower than at the General Election, as is typical for by-elections. So it's no good comparing overall numbers of votes - we have to focus on the percentage won by each party. On this basis, the obvious story is a collapse in the Conservative vote (-13.6) and a boost in the Labour vote (+10.2), with the Liberal Democrats holding more or less steady in the middle (+0.3).

But how do we explain this, and what does it mean? One problem with first-past-the-post is that we can't really tell. Clearly, it's out of line with how the three main parties stand in nationwide opinion polls, which would have conditioned us to expect a collapse in the LibDem vote rather than the Tories. But why didn't this happen? Is it because Elwyn Watkins had such a good relationship with the local electorate that his own vote has held up in spite of nationwide discontent with the Liberal Democrats as a party? Is it because Tory voters in the constituency deliberately decided to vote tactically for the LibDem candidate in an attempt to keep Labour out, as numerous commentators have suggested? Or is it some combination of both?

Under FPTP, we can only speculate about what happened, and what it all 'means'. At best, opinion pollsters can ask a sub-set of the voters about the reasons behind their decisions. But wouldn't it be even better if all of the voters in this constituency could have expressed their preferences clearly and unambiguously at the ballot box in the first place?

This is one of the things that AV offers. Imagine that Tory voters in particular - the main group suspected of tactical voting in OE&S - hadn't had to do so. Imagine that they could have expressed their true preferences by ranking candidates instead. Then we would be able to see more clearly what the real picture was.

The suggestion is that a third of people who voted Tory in the general election actually switched their votes to the LibDems in the by-election - not because they positively supported the LibDem candidate, but because they negatively opposed the Labour candidate, and saw Elwyn Watkins as best placed to defeat her under an FPTP system. If this is true, AV would make that shift, and those feelings, transparent. Under AV, we would be likely to see those same voters, now freed of the need to vote tactically, being able to put the Tory candidate whom they really preferred first, in the knowledge that if he were eliminated, their second-preference votes for the Liberal Democrat candidate would still be carried forward to help decide the final outcome.

This means that AV would have allowed local Tory voters to express their preferences in more detail, transmitting more information about what they actually thought about the candidates running for office via their choices at the ballot box than they were able to under FPTP. Indeed, this is of course true for all of the voters in the constituency, not just the Tory ones. I'm simply picking on local Tory voters because they are the most obvious example here of voters whose preferences we can't fully understand when expressed only through the FPTP system.

To me, what all this demonstrates is that AV is a superior electoral system to FPTP because it conveys a clearer message to politicians about what the people who are voting for them actually think and want. It enhances the political dialogue by making it easier for voters to indicate to politicians when they approve or disapprove of their actions. And if politicians want to do well under an AV system, they will need to listen and respond to the extra data which voters are providing to them. Indeed, they will have to, because of the requirement which is also part of the AV system that a winning candidate must secure the support of at least 50% of their voters. In other words, AV should mean an electoral system which is literally more democratic, because politicians become more responsive to the will of the voters.

I'm also quite aware that in this particular constituency, the likely message from voters to politicians which AV would have transmitted clearly, and which FPTP did not, is disenchantment with the Liberal Democrat party. If the LibDem share of the vote really did hold up partly thanks to Tory tactical voters, then that is perhaps not such great grounds for self-congratulation as Tim Farron tried to claim afterwards. And you know, much as I am still steadfast in my support for the party, I think it would actually be better for us to hear the clearer message that AV would have delivered in OE&S. It would have been a more accurate barometer of what we're getting right and what we're getting wrong, and a more helpful guide as to how to do something about it.

Of course, ultimately no by-election result can ever be a really accurate reflection of national political success or failure. Obviously local issues and local personalities play a huge role; as does the scope which voters tend to feel for registering a 'protest vote' in a situation where they know that it will have no effect on the party of national government.

But I would like all voters to be able to express their opinions more clearly in both by-elections and general elections. I want a better dialogue between voters and politicians - one in which our voices are stronger, and our candidates are forced to listen more attentively.

And that is (just one reason) why I am saying Yes to AV.

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strange_complex: (Me Yes to Fairer Votes)
This morning I got up bright and early, and headed off to spend the day campaigning for fairer votes in Skipton. I wasn't even sure I'd be able to get there when I set off, but as I got into town I realised that the snow was starting to melt at last, and my train left perfectly on time without the slightest problem. There was still plenty of snow lying in places where it hadn't been disturbed, though, leaving this statue of John Harrison (a local clock-maker) looking like he had a pair of festive angel wings:

In Skipton itself, I joined our campaign stall in the town hall, where there was a craft fair going on. It was much quieter than the organisers had expected, presumably because of the weather, but we talked to plenty of people - including Santa!

It was quite a different sort of event from the bonfire we went to at the start of November - that was mainly about shouting slogans and dishing out leaflets to students as they passed, but today we had more time to talk in detail about the referendum to people who were milling around at their leisure, most of whom were in their fifties or older. About two thirds of the people we spoke to still had no idea that there is a referendum on the horizon, or what it is about - but on the whole most of them were interested and enthusiastic once we explained what it involves. We got a few who just went "Oh, politics - I'm not interested in that", and one or two who said they preferred the current system, or didn't think the change would make any difference. But I'd say that in total about 80% of the people we spoke to were positively inclined towards AV by the time we'd finished with them.

Not all will actually take that positivity as far as bothering to turn out for the referendum, of course, but it seems quite encouraging to me. It also fits with the findings of a YouGov poll which concluded that people are more likely to prefer AV over FPTP if they understand how AV works. We've just got to keep on getting out there and making sure that they do.

Finally, here's a list of a few AV links which I've seen or shared on Facebook and Twitter recently, but haven't posted here yet:
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strange_complex: (Me Yes to Fairer Votes)
Many apologies that both writing and commenting here remains so light. It's going to be like this until December, when I finally finish and submit my article on Italian urban peripheries. Until then, the combination of that article, the other daily demands of my job and the ongoing fight to secure a viable future for our department just means I have very little spare brain-juice available for LJing. I'm doing my best.

Anyway, on Friday evening I downed tools and headed out of the house, all dressed from top to toe in purple, to help launch the nationwide Yes to Fairer Votes campaign at the Hyde Park bonfire in Leeds. The date of the AV referendum has been confirmed now, and November 5th marked exactly six months until it will take place. So it was time to get out there and start spreading the word.

We had a professional photographer along with us, as the nationwide campaign is asking local groups all over the country to submit photos of their events for a collective gallery. So we started out by doing a few posed photos )

Responses were pretty good on the whole. A few people just weren't interested, but I didn't encounter a single person who wanted to argue the case with us for keeping the existing first-past-the-post system. Rather more depressingly, though, the great majority of the people we talked to either a) had no idea that there was going to be a referendum on the voting system in six months' time or b) had no idea what AV is.

And that's a sad state of affairs, because what's happening next May is a really big deal. It's far bigger than a general election, where you merely vote to elect a government for the next five years. This referendum is about whether or not we should change this country's entire voting system permanently. It matters, and everyone should be thinking about it and talking about it and getting ready to decide how they want to vote in May.

Of course, the whole reason why we were there was to raise awareness about the referendum, and explain to people how AV works and why we believe it is fairer than the current system. And actually people seemed pretty interested once they heard about it. We chatted to as many people as we could and gave out a good couple of hundred flyers between us, with a fair number of people seeming actively pleased to be given them, or even coming up to us of their own volition to find out more. So it felt like a pretty positive start to the campaign. But there is still very definitely lots to be done.

Having said all that, of course, it would now be remiss of me not to finish off this post with a simple explanation of how AV works, and why I think it is an improvement on the current system. I know that a lot of people on my friendslist are already extremely well-informed about it. But I also know from my experience at the bonfire on Friday night that plenty of people won't be. Since everyone (who's over 18 and a UK citizen) will get to vote on this next May, I think it's time we all started talking about it. So this is my simple starter's guide to what on earth it's all about:

  • The change proposed is very simple. Under the current FPTP (first-past-the-post) system, you place an 'X' by the candidate you want to vote for, and whoever gets the most Xs wins. Under AV (alternative vote), you get to rank the candidates numerically in your order of preference instead.
  • If you want to, you can simply vote as you always have done under the AV system. You just put a '1' next to your favoured candidate, and leave the rest blank.
  • But AV also lets you express your preferences in more detail. You can vote '1' for the candidate you like best, but also '2' for the one you like next best, and so on until you run out of candidates or preferences. (See an example here.)
  • If no candidate gets more than 50% of the votes on the basis of first preferences, the candidate who got the least votes is eliminated, and the electoral officers look instead at the second preferences expressed by the people who voted for them.
  • These second-preference votes are allocated to the relevant candidates, and this keeps happening until one candidate has at least 50% of the total vote. That candidate is then declared the winner.
  • This means that in order to win their seats, parliamentary candidates would have to appeal positively to at least 50% of the voters in their constituencies.
  • The result would be fewer safe seats, and thus more accountable MPs.
  • It also means that if you live in a seat where your favourite candidate usually comes third, you would no longer have to face the choice between wasting your vote and voting tactically. You could express your actual preference by putting your favourite candidate first, but (assuming that that candidate is then eliminated) you would also still get to have a say in which of the remaining candidates wins by using your second (or third, or fourth) preference votes.
  • And if everyone in the country was voting on that basis, we might just get a Parliament which represented the views of the voters rather better than it does now - surely a good thing, whatever your personal political preferences are.

There's a lot more to say about it than that, of course. It isn't a simple issue, and there is plenty of debate to be had about how AV would actually play out in practice. But I am well enough convinced that it would be fairer than the current system to consider it worth actively campaigning for a 'Yes' vote. And I am absolutely certain that we should all be thinking about it pretty hard between now and the actual referendum. So consider the above my small, humble contribution to kick-starting the thought-processes. If it's the first kick you've had, then I've done my job.

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