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, 3 March 2011

On 5th May 2011 you will be asked to vote on whether or not to change the voting system in this country. I consider this to be a total waste of money (about £90 million) and a distraction from the more burning issues of the day. However, Parliament has settled it so it is going to happen.
I will be campaigning for a no vote. Our existing system of first past the post is not perfect, but it has the virtue of being clear and simple. The person with the most votes in every constituency wins.
Under the alternative voting system you will be asked to rank candidates. Usually we have five candidates in SW Devon. Here is how it would work. Let us imagine that after the count of all the first choices, nobody secures an overall majority. The fifth placed candidate is then eliminated, usually the BNP, their ballot papers are examined for second preference votes, which are allocated amongst the remaining candidates. If nobody still wins, the fourth placed candidate is knocked out (usually UKIP) and his or her second preference votes are distributed amongst the remaining candidates. And so on until somebody gets to 50% plus one.
Notice that in most cases the second choices of the main candidates are not used. It is only the votes of those who come at the bottom of the pile that get redistributed. This is why some of us argue that AV gives disproportionate power to those who vote for the fringe parties.
It is perfectly possible for the candidate who gets the most first choice votes to get beaten once second preferences are re-allocated. This is why AV is also sometimes described as a system that would produce a Parliament of second choices.
My third problem with AV is that it is much more likely to deliver coalition governments than first past the post. So far this Coalition is doing OK, but we should not assume that will always be the case. Besides, it proved that our current system works: the British people did not want to trust any single party with victory, so they produced a hung Parliament.
I am not an impartial advisor on this, but worry not. The Electoral Commission will be sending a leaflet to every household explaining how the two systems work. It will be fair and independent, and probably have the added advantage of being a cure for insomnia.

posted by Gary @ 17:34