The Alternative Vote

We talk to two opposing agitators ahead of tomorrow's vote when the British public will decide to either keep the 'first-past-the-post' voting system or change to AV

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Thursday May 5 will witness the first referendum in UK politics since 1975, when the British public voted in favour of the UK remaining a member of the European Economic Community. Thursday’s agenda, however, is slightly closer to home, with the vote deciding whether or not the UK will stick with our current voting system of first-past-the-post (where each voter has one vote, and the winner of the ballot is the party with the most number of seats out of the UK’s 177 constituencies), or to change the Alternative Vote (where each voter’s singular ballot entry is divided into preferences ranging from 1-5).

To help us get a better idea of what this means, and to help convince us one-way-or-the-other, Dazed caught up with two opposing members of campaigns running for and against AV, to find out what they think. Amisha Ghadiali is the Vice Chair for the ‘Yes Fairer Votes - Yes To AV’ campaign, and Jane Kennedy is the national organiser for the No To Av campaign’s Labour party-focus. No To AV is a cross-party, non-partisan campaign formed by parliamentarians.

Dazed Digital: Would you agree that two parties have dominated British politics for the last four decades?
Amisha Ghadiali:
Yes, and as a result not everyone has had their voice represented. Another consequence is that it also means that the two parties can just spend a lot of their time discussing issues that will affect the marginal seats. That system therefore keeps a lot of people out of the conversation.

DD: What are the positives about our current system?
Amisha Ghadiali:
I don't think there are any and I have been very shocked by the No campaign, who - instead of presenting argument in favour of it - have only focused upon why they think AV is bad.

DD: What are the negatives?
Amisha Ghadiali:
Currently, two thirds of our MPs are voted-in with less than 50-per-cent of the vote, meaning that the majority of the electorate did not vote for them.

DD: What are the positive sides to AV?
Amisha Ghadiali:
It allows you to vote how you feel so it's very simple when it comes to voting. Instead of having to second guess the outcome, you can go in, think about the candidates that you like, and number them, which makes things more honest. It also means that MPs will have to work harder, and not just pander to their core voters, so if certain MPs have previously been getting a core vote of just 30-per-cent, then they'll have to look outside of that core support. AV will therefore also change the fashion of 'safe seats'. At the moment there are MPs that have jobs for life in safe seats, so it'll start to break that down.

DD: What are the negatives?
Amisha Ghadiali:
Some people think that that it isn't proportional enough.

DD: Would you agree or disagree with the view that this referendum is a concession to the Liberal Democrats failed electoral policy of Proportional Representation, or do you feel that it represents an opportunity to alter our system of governance?
Amisha Ghadiali:
It's an opportunity to alter our system of governance, definitely. The way politics works is complicated. In order for a bill to pass through parliament, the majority of MPs and the House of Lords have to agree to it. As you've seen, half of parliament is currently against AV and the other half is for. In order to get this bill through, it had to be something that people agreed with in order to debate.

DD: Do you think that there is and underlying party-political struggle undermining this referendum?
Amisha Ghadiali:
No, but it's a shame that the media has focused on what this means for the coalition, and not the public. Actually, this referendum is nothing to do with our current MPs, it is about a voting system and it's no surprise that the parties do not agree on this issue, because they never have done in the past, either.

DD: Why should anyone vote?
Amisha Ghadiali:
I believe that this is the most important vote that we have been asked to take part in, because this is about the future of voting and therefore the future of our democracy. If we have a 'no' vote, we are going to be stuck with the same political system that we already have. If we vote 'yes' then we really do have a chance for a fairer system of democracy!

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DD: Would you agree that two parties have dominated British party politics for the last four decades?
Jane Kennedy:
I'm content that the British public has been able to vote for the party that they most identify with and that their votes have generally been decisive and always been counted. I do not accept the idea that there has been a strange transformation to British politics.

DD: What are the positive aspects of first-past-the-post?
Jane Kennedy:
It is very straightforward - everyone gets one votes and that vote is counted and the party that gets the most votes wins the election.

DD: What are the negatives?
Jane Kennedy:
It's true that first-past-the-post can produce disproportionate results that if you count the support that a party receives across the whole country rather.

DD: What are the positives about AV?
Jane Kennedy:
The only positive about it is that it would afford those people who feel disappointed that the party that they backed didn't win another chance to effect the outcome and vote for the winner.

DD: What are the negatives?
Jane Kennedy:
The negatives are that it is an unfair system that breaks the principle of "one person one vote". If I'm somebody that votes only once and puts one vote on my ballot paper - or even if listed other preferences - and if I happened to vote for the one that was winning amongst those in the category of “first preference”, then my vote only stands as a first preference. But if I voted for a smaller party that is then eliminated from the ballot, my second, third, fourth or fifth preference gets counted during the process of balloting, and I don't see why someone should have five preferences counted when I only have one counted. I think that's fundamentally unfair, and for me, that's the single biggest objection that I have to the alternative vote.

DD: Would you agree or disagree with the view that this referendum is a concession to the Liberal Democrats failed electoral policy of Proportional Representation, or do you feel that it represents an opportunity to alter our system of governance?
Jane Kennedy:
There's no question - it's a concession to the Lib Dems. It's the one they asked for when they entered into the Coalition. They could have asked for Proportional Representation but they didn't, and you have to wonder why that is, don't you? In my view I think that it's because it gives them party advantage.

DD: Is there a party political struggle undermining this vote?
Jane Kennedy:
Absolutely. This is not a discussion about improving our electoral system, it is about how we can cobble together a shoddy political fix that will benefit the Liberal Democrats.

DD: Why should anyone vote tomorrow at all?
Jane Kennedy:
First of all, your vote is extremely precious - it has been fought for by very brave people and people should use their vote whenever they have the opportunity, however they vote. People should also vote because this really is about defending our precious principle of one person, one vote. It is vote to preserve what is precious about our democracy. If you are fed up with politicians then do something about it, because AV will not change the system of selecting MPs.

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