At the last election, I lost Hampstead & Kilburn to Glenda Jackson by the agonising margin of 42 votes. This was made all the more galling as Thrasher & Rallings suggested we started in a distant third place. But despite losing under FPTP, I’m campaigning hard for a No2AV vote – for national and local reasons.
Nationally, our voting system is our way of choosing and removing Governments. AV will lead to substantially more hung Parliaments – and hung Parliaments have three constitutionally damaging consequences:
- The power to select and kick out Governments will pass from the people to just one person: the leader of the third party. The power to chose and remove the Government is the most precious thing in a democracy, and we must not give it up
- Parties will make vote-grabbing manifesto promises they know they cannot actually keep – counting on the fact they can blame a future coalition for ditching these promises. It will fatally undermine accountability with voters
- FPTP delivers Governments with a clear, unambiguous agenda. The public can then re-elect or kick out those Governments on the basis of their record. Simple, clear and fair.
Coalitions may work at a time of national crisis when a broad-based Government is needed. But not as a regular feature of our politics.
Locally, there is a simple question the Yes campaign cannot answer: Why should the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th and 5th preferences votes of fringe party candidates carry the same weight at the first preference votes of Conservative, Labour or even Lib Dem voters? In the Hampstead & Kilburn, there is a strong chance that the 4th or 5th preference votes of the 300 or so BNP voters could have determined the outcome under AV. This is simply unfair. Even if H&K under AV was decided by the 2nd preference voters of Lib Dem voters, that is still unfair. Why are their second preferences worth as much as a Labour or Conservative first preference?
We want the best candidates elected, with the positive backing of the electorate – not mere acquiescence to the least contentious candidate, which is what AV will deliver.
The Yes campaign says that a 50% vote in AV elections represents a more legitimate mandate. Firstly, unless every voter uses every preference, the mandate under AV will actually be well less than 50% of voters in most seats. The evidence from state elections in Queensland, Australia suggests that 60% of voters use just one preference – so under AV plenty of people will still win seats with around 40%-45% of the vote, and maybe less.
Secondly, a mandate that includes 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th preferences can hardly be held up as compelling. Getting elected with ~35%-40% of single votes is a better mandate than ~40%-45% cobbled together with BNP voters’ 5th preference votes thrown in for good measure.
Andrew Boff, writing on Con Home, laments the supposed need for tactical voting under FPTP. But no one is forced to vote tactically. It is up to voters to vote for the candidate they want to win – because people can come from nowhere to win under FPTP. Just look at Caroline Lucas in Brighton. And to those who say that FPTP cannot accommodate the rise of small parties, I say this: look at the history of the Labour Party. It came from nowhere to forming a Government in little more than 30 years under FPTP.
The Lib Dems and the Yes campaign have played dirty in this campaign. They have falsely accused the No campaign of lying about the cost of AV. The London Returning Officer Anthony Mayer (who conducted the 2004 and 2008 Assembly and Mayoral elections under a system requiring vote transfers similar to AV) has now said clearly said that expensive counting machines would most probably have to be used under AV – as he used them in those London elections – and even if they were not used, the cost would still rise very substantially due to much longer manual counting. Despicably, Chris Huhne has compared Sayeedi Warsi to Goebbels. Tim Farron has even suggested FPTP is linked to slavery. The Yes campaign ridiculously seeks to link FPTP with MP’s expenses. The Lib Dems even chose the date of the referendum in an attempt to influence the result in their favour. If the Yes campaign still loses despite all this, they certainly cannot complain.
I ask any Con Home reader who cares about our constitution and about our country – which I believe is most of us – to do everything you can in the next few days to help ensure a No vote.
I may have lost under FPTP in Hampstead & Kilburn, but our country wins.