Tuesday, 5 April 2011

Some are more equal than others

Due to illness I missed the Welsh Conservative conference this year. But I’ve just been reading some of the speeches delivered. Yes, I know, call me an anorak if you like. But amongst them I found this little pearl.
“It is a system so undemocratic that your vote for a mainstream party counts once, while someone can support a fringe party like the BNP and get their vote counted several times.” So said David Cameron the Prime Minister in Swansea recently.
If this were true, it would be a real worry to us all. But what might be accepted in the hot house atmosphere of a conference hall as the truth may in a less feverish atmosphere be seen as very misleading. 
The AV system is used in countless voluntary bodies up and down the land to elect officials. It works simply on the basis of the voter putting 1, 2, 3,4 in order of their preference. 
If any of the candidates get more than half of the votes they are elected. 

It means one candidate has got a majority, but with the voters having put the voting slip in the ballot box only the one time.
Yes, fine and dandy, but what if no one gets that majority. What then? 
Well, the least popular candidate is eliminated and the votes cast to this losing candidate are distributed to the other candidates. For the sake of argument lets take up  Mr Cameron’s challenge and call the losing candidate the BNP.  

So yes, you say, this proves Mr Cameron’s point, the BNP vote is “counted several times.”
In this example, the second preferences of the BNP candidate  is now redistributed amongst the rest.  Ah, so they’ve voted again, the very point the Prime Minister was making. 
Yes, but, and there is always a but, so did all the other candidates left in the contest. 

For those candidates left in the contest also have the votes they gained in the first round counted again in the second round and added to the voting total that decides the winner. This process goes on until one of the contestants achieves a majority.
So all votes are equal and it was disingenuous of Mr Cameron to say otherwise.
Now is the time for me to declare an interest. I’m not a great fan of the Alternative Vote. If one wants a fair voting system then it has to be the Single Transferable Vote (STV). A system which Lord Richard's report recommended for the National Assembly. A recommendation that will surely be revisited in the new session.
But  AV has real merit in one respect, it moves us away from the system of politicians favouring  the voters in swing marginal seats. 
Policy is skewed to appeal to Worcester woman, or Ford Cortina man. Alas, this is what our current election system of first past the post encourages.
Why? Because votes in these seats count far, far, more that in 'safe' seats. Consequently,  politicians don’t reach out to the rest. "Why pander to them if they don’t determine the results" is their attitude.
No, when politicians say that the system is working well. What they really mean is that it works ‘well’ for them. 

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