The Mysteries of AV

yes to fairer votes07:35 Thursday 31st March 2011
Peterborough Breakfast Show BBC Radio Cambridgeshire

PAUL STAINTON: To AV, or not to AV, that is the question. On May 5th we’ll be asked to vote in a referendum on changing the way we elect MPs. The choice is between keeping the current system, or switching to Alternative Vote, where you can rank candidates in order of preference, rather than just putting one cross in one box, the old traditional way. A series of TV and radio adverts to promote the referendum is launched on Friday, and from next week all of us will get an information pack posted to us. But we’re going to give you the low-down first, starting with these five facts from our political reporter Alan Soady. (TAPE)
ALAN SOADY: (BELL) Instead of just putting a cross in one box on your ballot paper, the alternative vote allows you to rank candidates in order of preference. So you put a number one next to your favourite, then if you want to, you can put a number two next to your second choice, and so on.
(BELL) It’s still based on constituencies like the current system, so one MP for each area.
(BELL) To win outright, a candidate needs more than half of those who vote to pick them as their first preference. So beyond doubt, the most popular choice. If no-one gets that, then the least popular candidate is eliminated.
(BELL) The second choices of whoever voted for that losing candidate are then taken into account. That process keeps going until someone gets over the 50% mark.
(BELL) The idea is that the winner is picked on the basis of some sort of consensus among local voters. But critics say it can lead to someone being elected who, under first past the post, might have come second, or even lower. (LIVE)
PAUL STAINTON: Well Jonathan Bartley is from the Yes to Fairer Votes campaign. Morning.
JONATHAN BARTLEY: Good morning.
PAUL STAINTON: It sounds incredibly complicated Jonathan. We don’t need it, do we?
JONATHAN BARTLEY: Well I think we do. It’s as easy as 1-2-3, and we just filled out a census form which is far more complex than this. You just go into the ballot box. You get extra choice. You number 1-2-3. And actually you get a real say. I think when you go and talk to people, they realise that we’ve got a system which really doesn’t work any more. We aren’t getting a voice. We aren’t getting a real choice. Most people don’t feel that their votes count. And the alternative vote actually really does make a difference. It’s a small change that makes a huge difference to the way we elect our MPs. They’ll have to be the ones we really want, not the ones that most of us have voted against. It tackles the idea of safe seats, where MPs just return, election after election. In some areas of the country you could take a donkey and stick a rosette on it, and it would still get elected, because the seat just never changes hands. A third of seats have never changed hands since the Second World War. Half of seats haven’t changed hands since 1976, which is ..
PAUL STAINTON: But on the flipside of that, a vote for one of the minority parties, say BNP or whatever, could get counted three or four times.
JONATHAN BARTLEY: No, everyone’s vote gets counted exactly the same. And actually what you don’t get told is, this is the system , when MPs wanted one that was going to be fair and be truly equal, this is the one they chose to order their own affairs. It’s actually one of the best kept secrets of British politics. They use it to elect the Speaker of the House of Commons. They use it to elect the Chairs of Cross-Party Select Committees, their own Leaders, candidates, when they actually wanted a system that was going to be equal and fair, and actually give people a real voice and a real choice, that’s the one that they plumped for. And you’ve got to ask, why is it that they don’t want us to have the system that they use for equality and fairness themselves?
PAUL STAINTON: Jonathan, thank you for that. Also with us is Ed Murphy, the spokesman for Labour. You’re all for this as well, are you Ed?
ED MURPHY: Yes certainly. In a personal capacity I’ll be supporting the fairer votes, and I think AV is a better system.
PAUL STAINTON: Yes. What’s the cost going to be though? We’ve heard about all these advertising campaigns. We’ve heard about extra counting, more time to count all of this. It’s going to cost a fortune when we’re all skint, isn’t it?
ED MURPHY: It’s going to cost money, and actually i think what the electorate probably want is a referendum on the European Union, rather than a referendum on the alternative vote system.
PAUL STAINTON: Yes. And how is it fairer? I still don’t see how it can be fairer. Convince me.
ED MURPHY: The alternative vote system will actually let people express a fairer vote, and let them express their preference in a better way.
PAUL STAINTON: Right. So say I wanted to vote for you Ed, Labour. So I give you a number one. Say my second vote would go to, I don’t know, Nick Sandford, Liberal Democrat, number two. My third vote might go to Stewart Jackson, number three. And my fourth vote, any old Tom Dick or Harry, BNP. I’ll go BNP there. There you go, for number four. So what happens then?
ED MURPHY: Well I would have been elected member of Parliament for Peterborough if you’d voted for me.
PAUL STAINTON: Say you didn’t get the required percentage, and it went to the ..
ED MURPHY: What would have happened in Peterborough last time would have been that the Liberal Democrat vote probably would have transferred to Labour, and I would have been elected member of Parliament for Peterborough. It’s basically between the 1, 2 and 3 really. The minority party vote transfers to the more popular parties. If people can vote for more choice, it will probably bring in more candidates. It will probably bring in more debate. It’s not going to be a massive change, but it is a fairer voting system than the current one.
PAUL STAINTON: Say Stewart Jackson was only a couple of thousand ahead.
ED MURPHY: Stewart would have got stuffed at the last election. He wasn’t popular and he wasn’t local. People would have voted for another candidate.
PAUL STAINTON: Let’s not get into that. I’m talking about the voting system here. Say he was a couple of thousand ahead of Nick Sandford, then all the minority votes than would be counted in. So say 5,000 people have voted for the BNP. Those 5,000 votes would become very very important votes wouldn’t they, because they’d be added then to the Liberal Democrat vote, wouldn’t they, and then potentially the Liberal Democrat would get elected on the back of people who voted for the BNP.
ED MURPHY: They would have been transferred, but most of the Nazi right-wing vote would have gone to Stewart Jackson in Peterborough, because he was the right-wing candidate. But effectively ..
PAUL STAINTON: That doesn’t work, does it? That’s not how this system works.
ED MURPHY: Under the alternative vote system, somebody would have ultimately, had they got 50% of people voting for them, they would have been elected.
PAUL STAINTON: What I’m trying to get to here Ed is under this system, weight would be added to whatever minority party got a load of votes in a tight election, wouldn’t it, extra weight? How is that fair?
ED MURPHY: It’s a fairer voting system. People get to express a choice.
PAUL STAINTON: OK. That’s Ed Murphy, who’s the Labour spokesman, on the alternative vote system.

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