Saying Yes!

May. 4th, 2011 11:04 pm
[personal profile] aeshna_uk
My, but it's been a while since I updated this journal (or, indeed, looked at it – I fell behind over New Year and never quite caught back up, so sorry if I've missed anything important!). I did start 2010 with the intention to be better at updating LJ, but somehow that never quite happened and now we're suddenly halfway through 2011. I'll put a full update up on here soon, but in the meantime....

Tomorrow, the UK goes to the polls. There are a number of different elections going on in various parts of the country – local councils, parliamentary by-elections, mayors, the devolved assemblies – but the one that we're all voting on (and, here in London, the only one we're voting on!) is a Referendum on changing the way that we elect MPs. It's only the second full national referendum that we've ever had and right now the result is too close to call, with polls all over the place. The two sides are multi-party – some fully for, some fully against, some split down the middle. The Communist Party of Great Britain is for the change, the Communist Party of Britain against it... and that's probably the first time that any part of the Communist Party has agreed with the British National Party (strongly against) on anything!

I've spent the past few weeks campaigning with the Yes camp, travelling around bits of north London to hand out leaflets and increase awareness. For me, this is a complete no-brainer: for centuries we had a 2-party system where any vote would give a 50+% majority in a constituency, giving an elected representative approved by more than half of their voters. That worked well even into the 1950s, where 96% of the vote and 99% of MPs went to just two parties. But now we have a multi-party system, with three major parties, plus two others with significant support, plus the nationalist parties, plus a smattering of minor, more extremist/special interest parties and independents, and it just isn't fit for purpose anymore. It's rather ironic that it's called First Past The Post when there isn't actually a 'post' as such any more – it's just whoever gets the largest share of the vote on the day, even if that means that someone gets elected on less than 30% of the vote. Right now, only a third of MPs have the ballot-box approval of a majority of their constituents.

The system that we're looking to move to is the "Alternative Vote", another majority system (in an ideal world, we'd go to proportional representation, but that's a battle for another day!) but one that re-establishes the 50% mark by allowing voters to rank candidates in order of preference. It's not a new or complicated method – Australia has been using a variant for the last 80 years (they have compulsory voting and have to rank all the candidates; the British system doesn't force people to vote and voters can choose to rank as many or as few candidates as they like – it's completely optional), we already use it in mayoral elections, and all of the major political parties and unions use it to decide their own leaderships. It's really not tricky – all the voter does is rank their preferences and the count then proceeds:

But, of course, there will always be people with a vested interest in maintaining the status quo and to say that it hasn't been the cleanest of campaigns would be something of an epic understatement. We've had some spectacular nonsense being thrown around by the No campaign and dirt, alas, sticks. We've been told that AV is too complicated (are we really that thick?), that it's expensive (has the price of paper and pencils gone up?), that it lets some people have more than one vote (no, everybody gets one vote, they just rank preferences rather than an all-or-nothing pick), that it'll let extremists in (despite the fact that everybody's favourite bogeyman party, the BNP, is campaigning hard for a No vote as what will let into parliament is FPTP combined with a low turnout, because extremists will always vote even when nobody else can be bothered), that it's just not... British. And that gem from David Cameron, a man who wouldn't even be the leader of his own party if they used FPTP in their internal elections. What's good enough for the political classes isn't good enough for the rank-and-file, it seems.

Tomorrow, I will be up at the crack of dawn and working from 7am to 10pm to get the vote out here in London – leafleting commuters, knocking on doors, calling those who have previously expressed support. Because this matters, really matters. This is an opportunity to update our democracy to the 21st century and give the next generation a fairer politics. I've given weekends and mornings and the best part of £200 to this, am probably going to go into the weekend in a state of nervous exhaustion and covered in coldsores, but sometimes something is sufficiently important that just sitting back and hoping for the best isn't enough. What we stand to gain is a system where the voice of the majority is heard, where people feel free to vote for the candidates they like, rather than against the one they want to block (want to vote against someone? Just leave 'em out of your preferences entirely! Much more insulting if you're giving a ranking to the Monster Raving Loonies but not to them!), where candidates will have to be more positive in their campaigning because just slagging off the opposition won't get you many second preferences from their side, where entrenched 'safe seats' where they barely bother with election campaigns will be that bit less safe because just keeping a 35% minority happy won't be enough anymore. Where places other than marginal seats get some attention paid to them. The last general election was ultimately decided by just 1.6% of the vote. This is our chance to change things for the better for the next generation of voters.

We might not get another.

And now, because this is the internet, here is AV explained through the medium of funny cats:

Say yes to Fairer Votes tomorrow! :D
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