Gary's News and views

Gary Streeter MP for South West Devon

Gary writes a weekly article which appears in the Plympton Plymstock and Ivybridge News in South West Devon. The articles are published here.


Thursday, 2 September 2010

Next Monday at Westminster we will be debating a bill that will introduce a referendum next year on a change to the voting  system. I am not going to support it.
The new system, it adopted, will change the way we vote. Instead of placing a cross against one name and the person with the most votes being elected in each seat (first past the post) voters will be asked to express a preference and mark each candidate with a 1,2 or 3 etc (Alternative Voting System).  If once the first votes are counted no candidate has over 50% the last candidate's second preferences are allocated to the remaining candidates and so on until one reaches 50%. A small change you might think, but it will have important consequences. One of them is that we might never have a single party government again.
For those of you still awake, I would like to set out my reasons for opposing this bill. First, in 18 years of doing this job not one of you has ever suggested to me that you wish to see this change made. Not one. Since the election, once this bill became a feature of the Coalition Agreement, I have had 9 e-mails about it, 7 urging me to support it, 2 against. There are 70,000 of you. This is not a priority.
Second, the referendum will cost between £80 and £100 million, at a time when we are slashing public spending.  Free swimming for pensioners and under fives costs £48 million a year. I would rather we continued that than proceeded with this unwanted referendum.
Third it was not in my party's manifesto, nor mine. If it had been I would have consdiered myself honour bound to vote for it. I realise that it is part of the Coalition Agreement, much of which is excellent – but I do not consider myself bound by every detail.
Finally I have always been in favour of first past the post. In AV people who support the smaller parties effectively get a second vote, whereas those who support the two most popular candidates in each seat effectively do not. How fair is that?
Our coalition partners are keen on this because it is reckoned to give them another 25 seats. I think the current coaltion is doing well in difficult circumstances but I do not want to saddle Britain with always having a coaltion government, like Italy.

posted by Gary @ 12:24