Wednesday 13th April at 6.05pm, JustShare Lecture on Christian Social & Political Thought:
'Let your Yes be Yes: The Christian imperative to change the voting system'
We were very grateful to Jonathan Bartley, Founder and co-director of Ekklesia and spokesperson for the 'yes to fairer votes' campaign, for such a lucid presentation of his arguments in favour of electoral reform. See www.yestofairervotes.org for more information.
Jonathan suggested that first past the post (FPTP) works well with 2-party elections since one candidate will always have over 50% of the vote and so a clear mandate to govern on behalf of the majority. However, FPTP is less effective when, as in Britain today, there are multiple parties and candidates. Under FPTP today, your MP rarely receives a majority (i.e. over 50%) of the votes; in the last General Election, only a third of MPs who were 'first past the post' had over 50%. AV, he argued, is simply FPTP with the post re-established at 50% of the vote. To win a seat, your MP under AV would have to get at least 50% of the vote. This would make MPs and contenders work harder and be more accountable to you, the voter. Under FPTP, it is typically just a few 'swing voters' who determine an election. Under AV, a candidate needs to make sure s/he can impress at least 50% of voters sufficiently to feature in their preferences.
Further, AV should encourage higher turn-out and therefore a more genuinely democratic process. Under FPTP, many people feel that their vote does not count; if they live in a 'safe' Labour seat, there is no point voting for a different party and so they may not bother to vote at all. AV allows voters to express more than one preference, meaning it is more worthwhile to vote. For example, you might wish to vote for one candidate on principle, another out of pragmatism, and another because of his/her dedication to local affairs. Under AV, you can express all of these preference. Further, the candidates you choose not to rank know that you actively did not want to vote for them. AV opens up more alternatives to you; this, Jonathan reflected, was closer to our daily human experience where we express and rank our preferences and all the time. It is also already used to elect party leaders, MEPs and a range of other posts.
Jonathan disputed some of the claims of the 'No' campaign, noting that AV would not lead to more hung parliaments (there have been more hung parliaments in Britain under FPTP then in Australia under AV), nor would it cost as much as some claimed. He also noted that AV would not allow extreme parties such as the BNP to sneak in. In fact, the BNP opposes AV because it knows the BNP will never get over 50% of the vote as required to win a seat under AV.