Avoid This Blog. It is about Politics.

Posted by Alex | | Posted On Thursday, 5 May 2011 at 19:21

We're into May, and I'm still sitting on my rent & bills money as, as far as I am aware, the landlady hasn't come round with our little slip where she tallies up the bills and divides it by five. I guess I'm in the clear until Monday then! But, I'm not here to give you another installment of "Alex is poor, so cry me a river!" In fact, I'm here to educate.

As most of you are aware -- if you are reading from the UK anyway -- today, May 5th, was election day in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. For those of you who have stumbled on this from another country, or who I have met on my travels, well: now you know. But, the other important thing on this day -- aside from Cinco de Mayo (or Hanko de Mayo) -- is the British referendum on Electoral Reform.

Sounds like a bore, right? Well, I guess most of it is a bore. It's all numbers and sheets of paper, and things that the average man on the street doesn't give two hoots about. Right now, in Britain, the voting system is pretty simple: tick a box, your vote counts; if your guy gets the most votes, he wins, and everyone else is left out in the cold. Simple. The joy of First Past the Post.

What's going on today in Britain, however, is a referendum to see if people want to change that system. In other words, a change towards a more democratic system. I think it was put best in a video about the Canadian elections held this month, that in the last (2008) elections, over 40% of Canadians voted for nobody, meaning only 17% of those entitled to vote actually wanted to have Stephen Harper's Conservatives representing them. The same happens in Britain, where the norm is for the party in power to be in on 36% of the vote (that is 36% of those who voted, which is usually less than 70% of the country), meaning only around 15-17% of people actually want the Prime Minister and his party to be representing us.

That's where today came into play. Owing to a lovely scandal over MPs and money, people wanted a bit more transparency and a lot more accountability. But, how can an MP voted in by a tiny amount of his constituency actually be held accountable? The other people can't moan because they lost or didn't vote; and those who did actually vote him in are in the minority, despite being the so-called majority. What do you do? Overhaul the system.

There are hundreds of potential voting systems out there. Some of my favourites include the Mixed Member system used in Wales, which, though confusing, gives people the best of both worlds. Constituencies are voted in on a First Past the Post (i.e. most votes wins) basis, and the remaining seats are given out proportionally on a Party List.
The other one I love is the French presidential system of dual-round voting. That is, essentially, that when your candidate loses, you go back to the polls two weeks later and vote for the two remaining candidates. You may be unhappy that your candidate lost, but at least you have more of a chance for your voice to be heard the second time as there's a 50:50 chance your man will get in.

So, in Britain, what have we opted to offer? Do we take on the Mixed Member system of Wales? Do we use the Single Transferable Vote found in Australia? How about the good old "Majority vote" found in schools across the land? Nope, the British government chose to offer the Alternative Vote. I won't go into the gory details, but essentially: rank your candidates in preference order, and when they get knocked out your 2nd preference is counted, then your 3rd if they get knocked out. Pretty simple.

What I'm noticing, however, is a split in the country. Those on the Right don't want the system because they think it will change everything. Those on the Left don't want the system because they are scared of minority parties suddenly gaining power. In reality, neither is going to happen. The British public, I'm sorry to say, are too slow-witted to suddenly change their voting habits from Lib-Lab-Con to Green or BNP. Rarely, if I'm honest, have I encountered someone who was willing to put their FPTP vote on the line and vote outside the Big Three -- that is, someone who is willing to throw it all away in the hope that someone else will vote with them. Only those of real conviction for their party seem to do that, while the others just tick the party of their current MP.

Case in point? The Rhondda, where I live (for those not aware), is a Labour heartland. For over 100 years, since the foundation of Labour, there has not been a day when it has not been represented, at a National level, by a Labour MP. Of course, on the devolved levels -- the Welsh Assembly, and the local council -- we see that people are more willing to put up with a Plaid Cymru or Liberal Democrat candidate. On the whole though, nobody says "You know what, I've had enough of that Chris Bryant and I'm voting Plaid!" Instead, they say "I've had enough of that Chris Bryant. But I don't trust anyone else!"

Admittedly, in heartlands and safe seats, the AV will only serve to strengthen the legitimacy of the candidate involved. Those 2nd place votes for Labour in the Rhondda will be added on to the first place tally, meaning we have more of a right to complain when our MP messes up. Where it will really matter is in those few marginals that see switches from Labour to Conservative or Liberal to Labour depending on the mood of the people. Essentially, legitimacy, accountability and, hopefully, some transparency will come out of this.

So, you may ask yourselves, why am I informing you of all of this? Well, the answer is simple: we're looking at a very likely No vote. In writing about this, I just hoped to get it out there that there is more to AV than what the Yes or No campaigns say; there is no massive change, there is no confusing system, there is nothing more than three boxes to tick instead of one. The downside, you use more ink. The upside, accountable MPs. But, hey-ho. As we see, year-in, year-out with elections, the British public are never going to change their ways and we will forever be swapping between Labour and Conservative, in the hope that, eventually, one of them will get it right.

I suppose, once the results are out, I write a status on Facebook and a line on Twitter about it all. Until then, if you read this far, let's have something a little more lighthearted:


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