19/04/2011

By Theodora Clarke, London No to AV campaign Youth Organiser

The upcoming referendum on changing the voting system on May 5th has important implications for the business sector.

Hung parliaments under the current voting system First-Past-the-Post are an unlikely occurrence. However, with the proposed Alternative Vote (AV) system, coalition governments are likely to become the norm rather than the exception.

Under AV, voters rank candidates in order of preference. If no candidate is the first choice of more than 50 per cent of voters, second, third and fourth preferences are distributed until one candidate has a majority of votes. Supporters of the yes campaign claim that AV is thus a more fair system for electing a member of parliament.

However, the reality is that AV would lead to broken promises like the Liberal Democrat’s U-turn on tuition fees. Instead of the voters choosing the government, politicians would hold the balance of power. A change to the Alternative Vote would result in the Liberal Democrats being perpetual king-makers with Nick Clegg’s vote being the only one that really counts.

The No campaign’s recent referendum broadcast highlighted that AV is a ‘politician’s fix’. Their video of Alan B’stard shows backroom deals and the famous fictional politician failing to deliver on any of his manifesto pledges.

The Prime Minister in his speech this week also stressed that AV would damage accountability. He explained how parties campaign on their manifestos and that the electorate rightly expects the winner to honour their pledges once they are in government.

David Cameron said: “When we were fighting that election, this time last year, I had a personal stake in every single policy in the Conservative manifesto ... I signed my name on that manifesto and I took ownership of every single pledge in it because I knew that if we were to win the election outright ... then I would be held accountable for each one of those pledges — and quite right too.”

The point Mr Cameron was making is a central argument against AV. It is easy to imagine just how differently politicians would act if they expected the election result to be a coalition with another party. It would be easy for any party to include promises in their manifestos that sounded good but which they could not deliver. And this is what AV would result in.

If a party made promises to aid the business sector it would be easy to renege on them later. The parties in government could absolve themselves of any blame by simply blaming their coalition partners for their inability to fulfil their manifesto pledge or implementing their policies.

As Matthew Elliot, Campaign Director for NO to AV has observed:

“This kind of shoddy behaviour is exactly the kind of thing we might see under AV. We would have politicians doing backroom deals and not delivering on their promises just so they could cling to power. This is why we should protect our democracy and keep One Person, One Vote.”

The good news is though that when the public are explained what the differences are between the two voting systems it has a marked impact in favour of the No campaign. According to yesterday’s poll by the Guardian opposition to the alternative vote system is strengthening.

The ICM survey shows that the No campaign has a 16-point lead in stark contrast to an earlier two-point lead for the Yes campaign from an equivalent poll two months ago. Those people who were rung and asked about their voting intentions in the referendum answered 58% in favour of no with only 42% saying yes.

The Prime Minister said electoral reform was about “how you feel in your gut, the values you hold dear and the beliefs you instinctively have”. He said: “I feel in my gut that AV is wrong”. He warned that power should lie with the people and that AV would “take some of that away”. So the question is ... can the business sector really afford to let the politicians decide who runs our country?

There are only two weeks to go until the referendum and the battle to convince the population to vote is intensifying. A high turnout will be essential especially when voter apathy is rife. In London where there are no local elections, turnout is predicted to be as low as 15%. The general public still seems unengaged with the subject of electoral reform. It is therefore up to campaigners from both sides to persuade the public to get out and vote on May 5th.