What is the alternative?

Well, a referendum on our EU membership would have been nice. Instead, we’re going to get a referendum on the Alternative Vote (AV) system that no one’s very excited about. The Conservative party would prefer to stick with the current First Past The Post (FPTP) system. The Labour party is ambivalent about AV. Party leader Ed Miliband has come out in favour, but the rest of his party are divided on it. Even the Lib-Dems would prefer Proportional Representation (PR) to AV. So ironically, AV could be adopted in the UK even though nobody would have it as their first choice. Everyone would get something that nobody wants.

On the face of it, PR, whereby the distribution of the national vote corresponds to the apportionment of the seats at Westminster, appears to be the fairest system. However, it uncouples the direct link between constituencies and MPs – a crucial facet of our democracy.

FPTP has its flaws, especially as the two major parties invariably secure a disproportionate number of seats relative to their share of the vote. Many votes are considered to be wasted in constituencies regarded as “safe seats”.

As for AV, only three countries, Fiji, Papua New Guinea and Australia, currently use it. In Australia, the unpopularity of AV led to voting being made compulsory. Given the bipartite nature of UK politics, it’s a system that could fall victim to the law of unintended consequences. Those who vote for the least popular candidate could have more influence on the outcome than those who vote for a more popular one. The following example is an attempt to illustrate this.

In our fictional constituency of Upper Gummtrey, 100 people vote in an election. The distribution of votes is as follows:

Conservative 38
Labour 32
LibDem 16
Pastafarian 14

Under FPTP, the Conservatives would win the seat. Under AV, however, the Conservative candidate has failed to secure 50% of the vote and a second count is required. The Pastafarian candidate has the lowest number of votes and is eliminated. Each ballot paper on the Pastafarian pile is looked at again. All those that show a second preference for another candidate are added to that candidate’s pile. Of the 14 voters who selected Pastafarian as their first preference, two did not indicate any other preference and are therefore discarded. 12 of them indicated a second preference, and the votes are reallocated as follows:

Conservative 38 + 1 = 39
Labour 32 + 2 = 34
LibDem 16 + 9 = 25

The Conservative candidate’s 39 votes still represent less than 50% of the total remaining vote, so there has to be a third count. This time, the LibDems are eliminated. Each ballot paper on the LibDem’s pile is looked at again. All those that show a second preference for another candidate are added to that candidate’s pile. Of the 16 voters who selected LibDem as their first preference, one did not select any other preference and is therefore discarded. 5 of them went for Pastafarian as their second preference, but the Pastafarians have already been eliminated. 3 of those 5 indicated a third preference and these are included in the reallocation which works out like this:

Conservative 39 + 2 = 41
Labour 34 + 11 = 45

45 is more than 50% of the remaining vote so the Labour candidate is duly elected.

It’s possible that none of those who voted for the Conservative candidate as their first choice ranked Labour as their second preference. So how do you suppose they would feel about Labour winning this seat? How can this be considered a more democratic system than FPTP?

There must be an alternative!

About thespeedofdark

David Winship has written an unauthorised autobiography and several critically disdained literary tomes. His work is frequently compared with Steinbeck, Orwell and Hemingway, but unfortunately Mike Steinbeck, Daisy Orwell and Howard Hemingway were all terrible writers. He has been totally overlooked for the most prestigious literary awards worldwide, which is a shame as most of the words are spelled correctly. In fact, his books contain material that ranks with the finest literary works in history: all the right letters are there, just not necessarily in the right order.

Dave’s blog (The Speed Of Dark Blog) is part of his crusade for truth and justice and universal entitlement to free real ale. It may well be that his whole purpose in life is to serve as a warning to others.

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