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6:46pm on Friday, 8th April, 2011:



I'm not sure how to vote in this up-coming referendum on replacing our first-past-the-post electoral system with alternative voting. On the one hand, I dislike FPTP; on the other, I dislike AV even more.

FPTP means some votes don't count. It doesn't matter what I vote in the constituency I live in, the Conservative candidate is going to get elected.

AV means some votes count multiple times. Not only do you get to vote for someone, you get to vote against someone else, multiple times.

I was put off AV for life when I saw it in action in the Student Union elections at Essex University 30 years ago. What would happen is that there would be like a dozen candidates, and they would gradually be eliminated one by one, their votes all being passed to their next-choice candidates. Some people would try to arrange it so their vote would be transferred every time. Finally, we'd get to a position where the Conservative candidate (in the lead from the start) would be up against the Labour and Liberal candidate. The Liberal would have the fewest votes, and would be eliminated; their votes would be transferred to Labour (or whichever leftist group had been selected to win in the pre-election stitch-up) and the Labour candidate would be declared victorious. Except, if the Conservatives had been eliminated, their votes would have gone to the Liberals, and then the Liberals would have won. Likewise, if the Labour votes had been transferred, the Liberals would have won. The Conservative voters didn't get their preference, because they were the biggest group; if they'd been less popular, sure, they wouldn't have won, but at least their second preference would have got in. As it was, they were defeated by the combined might of sometimes tenth-preference votes.

On this evidence, I should vote for FPTP. However, there's a chance that if AV gets passed, it will ultimately lead to proportional representation. I like PR, so long as it doesn't involve party lists; I also don't mind if it's not scrupulously proportional if it keeps some of the benefits of non-proportionality such as a constituency link (indeed, I blogged about a PR version of FPTP in 2005). I basically just want a fairer system. AV isn't fairer — it's less fair; however, it may be the slope we have to descend from FPTP in order to climb the higher hill that is PR.

From my point of view it's merely an academic point anyway, given that the Conservative candidate for Harwich & North Essex got 46.9% of the vote in the 2010 election; I don't think they'd be in any danger of losing this seat under AV, it just might take until UKIP's 5.2% got reassigned for them to cross the finishing line.

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Copyright © 2011 Richard Bartle (richard@mud.co.uk).