On Thursday, 5 May 2011, there will be a referendum on how MPs are voted into parliament yet evidence of racial politics has already been uncovered indicating that this system will not provide real political choice for black and minority ethnic voters nor was it the reform promised by Nick Clegg in May 2010.
A political campaign by the Liberal Democrats to encourage voters to choose yes to reforming the way MPs are voted into parliament is already under way.
The former director of the BBC, Greg Dyke. British gold medal winner Kriss Akabusi, comedian Eddie Izzard and other high profile media personalities have been supporting the campaign for voting reform.
Dyke claims that under the ‘alternative vote’ (AV) system, where voters have to rank political candidates in order of preference MPs are forced to work harder for the people to get their votes.
The Conservatives argue that AV voting will make it easier for a party like the BNP to get into parliament. So what is the truth?
Benefits of AV
According to the Electoral Reform Society, an independent organisation working to inform and empower voters, an MP would have to win the support of the majority of the electorate in order to be voted into parliament under AV, where as under the present ‘first past the post’ (FPTP) system an MP can be voted into parliament by a minority of their constituents, ignoring the votes of many who voted against that MP.
Another benefit is the supposed increase of voter choice, whereby before voters could only choose one candidate, they can now rank candidates in terms of preference making their vote really count and actually having a direct effect on elections.
Operation Black Vote, an organisation whose aim is to encourage black communities to vote and take part in the political process said, “The AV system that demands the winning candidate obtain more than 50% of the vote will mean that even those politicians who thought they had ‘safe’ seats will have to think again. By definition, the less safe the seat is, the sitting politician, candidates and their parties will have to work that much harder to ensure the widest possible support. Surely that can only be good for democracy.”
The disadvantages of AV
The disadvantages of AV are also considerable. According to a report on the London School of Economics website by Colin Rallings and Michael Thrasher (Suppose UK voters accept the Alternative Vote in the May referendum… but then don’t use AV to signal multiple party preferences?: October 25, 2010) voters in Queensland who have the AV system vote in the same way that they would in a FPTP system, which means that not much would change. They say that voters tend to vote for their favourite party, ignoring second and third choice candidates and thereby making the AV system void.
A British Election Study team at the University of Essex simulated a general election using AV using mock ballot papers filled in by the public, and the results were revealing. The results found that the Liberal Democrats would have won 32 more seats in 2010, the Conservatives would have 22 less seats and Labour, 10 fewer seats. The study found that Labour and the Liberal Democrats would have had enough votes to form a coalition government.
From that study it is shown that not much would change under AV, if anything it is beneficial for the Liberal Democrats and a far cry from the pluralist democracy promised by supporters of AV.
The Respect Party, which was formed in 2004 against the mainstream political parties are also against AV. On their website they say, “…there are major problems with the Alternative Vote system that effectively destroy it as a realistic or progressive development. It is not different to the existing system and exaggerates its worst elements; it strengthens the grip of the existing big parties, tactical voting and the ‘centre’ of British politics; it is a Liberal Democrat ‘progressive’ project designed to mask its thoroughly disgraceful part in a right wing Conservative dominated government.” (http://www.voterespect.org/2011/03/against-alternative-vote-yes-to-pr.html)
AV and race politics
Already, the supporters of AV have been caught up in a race row. According to a Daily Telegraph report (Yes to AV says No to black poet: 2 April 2011) by Melissa Kite, Deputy Political Editor, The Yes Campaign supported by Nick Clegg removed the picture of black poet Benjamin Zephaniah from its leaflets in white areas, a tactic used by all three mainstream parties in the past to appeal to right wing white voters who may be sympathetic to the far right. (Read Tories tarnished in racial ‘airbrushed’ pictures row)
The Conservative Party has jumped on this and accused Clegg and his party of being ashamed of a black representative and appealing to the far right, yet they themselves have played racial politics in this debate.
The Conservatives claim that AV will lead to more votes for political parties like the BNP, which does not seem to be the case. In fact on the BNP website it states “The AV system is obviously a sleight of hand which is directed against the BNP and is not aimed at improving democracy in Britain.” (BNP: Another Election Lie as Nick Clegg Abandons Single Transferrable Vote System for “Alternative Vote” Policy: 5 December 2010)
In the article BME voters should vote for change over much of the same I argued that black and minority ethnic voters should vote for change rather than the same old political system based on inequality and lies. I supported political parties like The Respect Party, which is not only against wars for greed overseas, but is also against the sell off of public services to private companies. The Respect Party appeals to all races in Britain but the AV system will not reflect parties such as this in parliament.
Proportional Representation or Single Transferable Vote (STV) is considered by some like the Electoral Reform Society as the best and most effective system for voters. The Electoral Reform Society said, “STV gives voters more choice than any other system. This in turn puts most power in the hands of the voters, rather than the party heads, who under other systems can more easily determine who is elected, meaning that under STV MPs’ responsibilities lie more with the electorate than those above them in their party.” (http://www.electoral-reform.org.uk/article.php?id=48)
Proportional representation is what Nick Clegg and his party promised to voters on May 8, 2010 and is on page 88 of the Liberal Democrat Manifesto (http://issuu.com/libdems/docs/manifesto), a promise he has now gone back on. The AV system is a cop out and does not seem to be political reform whatsoever.
Come the referendum I will be asking why proportional representation as promised by Clegg is not an option anymore, and I hope readers will be informed now to make the best decision for themselves.
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