On Friday (18/03/11) the Lib Dems launched their Yes2AV campaign in Manchester. Clegg was unable to make the launch due to emergency cabinet meetings concerning Libya but his absence wasn’t felt harshly as the other speakers more than made up for the lack of Nick.
Tim Farron MP, the president of the party, opened with a fantastic speech about the failings of the FPTP system (link) where he pointed out the shocking reality that “only one in every 80 voters actually mattered last year”.
Following Tim Farron was John Leech, a local MP who spoke to Manchester’s historic involvement in electoral reform.
Liberal Youth’s own Sarah Harding spoke after John Leech on LY’s involvement in the Yes2AV frenzy. She made it perfectly clear that the youth of the UK are far from complacent on the issue of fairer votes.
Floella Benjamin used her wealth of experience to give us an easy-to-understand explanation of how AV actually works and Gordon Birtwistle MP spoke specifically about the BNP.
Closing the launch was Simon Hughes, deputy leader of the Liberal Democrats, who gave a closing speech addressing the merits of the AV system.
In light of the launch and with less than 50 days until the referendum, there’s no time like the present to talk about AV.
Firstly, why do we need a referendum?
The electorate are disenchanted with the current system. Not everybody knows that it’s the voting system that’s to blame but all the issues you hear from people who claim there’s “no point in voting” can be put down to our FPTP system: votes not counting, safe seats, two-party system, MPs’ jobs for life, expenses scandals, etc. etc. So in order to tackle this system, the Lib Dems have managed to get us a referendum in May (sorry, it’s automatic to praise my party but AV is absolutely not a party-political issue) – the referendum gives us, the voters, chance to decide to how we vote. Now that’s not something that happens too often!
What’s so great about AV?
In order to win a seat under AV, the candidate needs votes from at least 50% of constituents. Candidates currently get away with a third of the vote in some cases! This means MPs need to work harder for their seats and work harder throughout their term; say goodbye to safe seats!
So why is there opposition?
The main criticism I have heard from the No2AV crowd is that AV doesn’t go far enough; that we should strive for something even MORE proportional (such as STV which, sadly, would rid us of the constituency-link) but the referendum isn’t about AV or STV, it’s about FPTP vs AV and nobody who supports proportional votes can argue that AV isn’t better than the current FPTP system.
The No Campaign also claim that AV will lead to gerrymandering – this comes from the fact that constituencies are going to be redrawn this year to reduce the number of MPs. This will happen whatever the result of the referendum and is nothing but a scare tactic.
“Oh, but it will cost so much! We can’t afford it!” – AV costs no more than FPTP. The No Campaign claim that we will need to invest in counting machines to implement AV. “Don’t worry, AV results can be worked out with a pencil!”, we say from the Yes side. “We won’t bother to work it out by hand!” say the No side – Australia has hand counted its elections for 8 decades.
Some claim that AV will allow extremist parties to creep in – well, it’s odd then that the BNP are part of the No2AV group! Under AV, candidates need to get 50% of the vote. They don’t need that under the current system and it’s that flaw in the current system that will allow extremist parties to sneak in.
I’ve also heard that AV can lead to more hung-parliaments – well, we elected the hung parliament currently in power under FPTP! This isn’t an argument at all.
The No team also claim that AV gives some people more than one vote. This is ridiculous! AV is one person one vote. It just allows people to express their preferences. “If you go into a cafe and they don’t have your first choice of drink, or your second, but they have your third choice – you haven’t had three drinks but you have expressed your preferences.”
These myths and lies from the No Campaign are inexcusable – they are naught more than an attempt to hinder our chances at getting a fair system. Why? The only reasons to work for a No vote in May is to keep safe seats, keep MPs’ jobs for life and allow MPs to get away with whatever they like (such at the recent expenses scandal). Charlotte Henry’s blog has drawn my attention to the fact that it’s not JUST the No Campaign employing dirty tactics; even the polls are being distorted to assosciate the referendum with Clegg rather than allowing it to stand on its own, outside of party politics – as it should!
We can’t let these tactics get to us though, the vote you cast on May 5th in this referendum will be the most important vote you ever cast. Vote Yes.
The Electoral Commission have published booklets to explain AV in more detail (and without bias)
Also check out http://www.yestofairervotes.org