28 Nov 2010

AV referendum: Labour MPs back both sides

Labour MPs are split over proposed changes to the voting system. Former Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett and former Culture Secretary Ben Bradshaw explain why they are backing different sides.

Ben Bradshaw MP, who is supporting the Yes Campaign in the AV referendum next May. (credit:Getty Images)

Yes: Ben Bradshaw MP
No voting system is perfect. But first past the post is the worst of any in use in a modern democracy. It means elections are won or lost among a few thousand voters in a handful of marginal seats. Parties focus their energies and resources accordingly.

The majority of voters in “safe” seats are ignored. Voters in those seats are effectively disenfranchised. If you don’t vote for the Party that always wins your vote counts for nothing. MPs in these safe seats are almost never deselected, so have jobs for life, however good they are.
AV changes that. It gives power to the voter.

Candidates and MPs have to work harder to reach out beyond their core support to if they’re to attract the 50 per cent of first or second preferences they need to win. The voters are freed from the current pressure to vote tactically. Parties will be more reluctant to keep unpopular or lazy MPs because they’ll be easier for the voters to eject. AV retains the constituency link and avoids the problem in “top up” systems of creating two classes of MP.

This referendum will be an historic chance to reform. AV would be a big improvement on the status quo. (Oh, and the Tories hate it!)

Electoral Reform: how the Coalition could change the vote
Margaret Beckett MP, who is heading up the No Campaign in the AV referendum next May (credit:Getty Images)

No: Margaret Beckett MP
I am President of the cross-party NO to AV campaign because I think the Alternative Vote is a step in the wrong direction for our country.

It’s not a fair system. Supporters of fringe parties can end up getting five or six votes while people who backed the mainstream candidates only get one.

It’s obscure and unpopular. Only three countries in the world use AV for their elections: Fiji, Australia, and Papua New Guinea. In Fiji, they’re about to get rid of it. In Australia, 6 out of 10 voters want to return to the British system. It also led to a significant drop in the number of people voting in Australia – that’s why they had to make voting compulsory.

It’s complicated and expensive. AV elections take longer to count, which costs more and leads to longer periods of uncertainty after close elections. And it’s taxpayers who’ll end up footing the bill.

Even the “Yes” campaigners don’t really want it. Before the general election, Nick Clegg described AV as “a miserable little compromise”. Another top Lib Dem, Chris Huhne, said “it does not give voters real power”. Now they want us to back it?

NO to AV is a genuinely cross-party, non-partisan campaign which is gaining momentum around the country, involving people from all political parties – and none – to make sure Britain votes “No” on 5 May.