18 Apr 2011

AV referendum: Why you should vote Yes

As the campaigns for and against a switch to the Alternative Vote gear up for the 5 May referendum, Jonathan Bartley – Vice Chair of the Yes to Fairer Votes campaign – makes the case for a Yes vote.

Jonathan Bartley, Vice Chair of the Yes to Fairer Votes campaign

The Alternative Vote (AV) is a small and simple change that puts more power in the hands of voters.

Maintaining existing arrangements of one MP in one constituency, it allows us to say more when we vote. As well as being able to express one choice we would also have the option to rank candidates in order of preference with a simple 1, 2, 3 – as many, or as few, as we like.

Why is this needed? First Past the Post only works in a two horse race. In the 1950s, 96 per cent of us voted for the two big parties – red or blue. One candidate would get over 50 per cent of the vote and so we knew that our MPs had the support of a majority.

Times have changed. Now millions of us vote for other parties. And this means that only a few MPs get majority support. There is no “post” to pass any more. At the last General Election, most MPs were elected with most of us voting against them, not for them. Many MPs end up in Westminster with the support of just three in ten voters.

The Alternative Vote means one person, one vote – but one vote that really counts.

The Alternative Vote fixes this by putting the post back into First Past the Post. Any candidate who has the obvious support of the majority is elected. But when they don’t, the most unpopular candidates are eliminated. As the people who voted for them no longer have a say, their next preferences are then transferred to the candidates who are still in the race. Everyone’s vote is then counted again. This process continues until we know which candidate is preferred by the majority.

The Alternative Vote means one person, one vote – but one vote that really counts.

AV means it is easier to get rid of MPs who cling on to power even when a majority don’t want them. Seats will be less “safe”, so there will be fewer “jobs for life”.

It frees us from the need to vote tactically. Come election time, many of us receive leaflets through our doors from parties claiming that only they “can win here”. They encourage us to vote not for the party we really believe in, but for one that can win – or even just to keep another party out.


AV means we can be more truthful. We don’t have to guess who can win or give in to party propaganda. We can vote for who we really want with our number one choice, safe in the knowledge that we still have a say in who represents us through our preferences if they aren’t successful.

And it also means that politicians will have to reach out to more people in their local communities. They can no longer rely on their minority, core vote which returns them election after election. They will have to listen and take into account the views of more people. And of course it will be much easier to get rid of the MPs who don’t.

AV is simply fairer, more representative and democratic. We get more choice and more voice. It takes power away from politicians and puts it into our hands.

There is nothing about the system that makes hung Parliaments more likely. It is a brick wall to extremism, as extremists will never be able to sneak in with minority support in the way they have under First Past the Post in local council elections. And all that it takes to administer are a few more hands to count the ballots and a bit more pencil lead to mark our preferences.

AV is a small change that could make a big difference.

Jonathan Bartley is the Vice Chair of the Yes to Fairer Votes campaign.