Voting referendum: William Dartmouth's view
- 28 March 2011
- From the section UK Politics
A referendum will be held on 5 May on whether to keep the first-past-the-post system for electing MPs or to switch to the alternative vote (AV). The BBC is asking a variety of people to give their view.
The UK Independence Party firmly supports the alternative vote. First-past-the-post has become a broken system. It no longer reflects properly what the voters want.
At the 1955 general election - the high water mark of the "two party system" - nine out of ten MPs elected won more than 50% of the vote in their constituency.
At last year's general election, only one in three MPs were elected with 50% or more of the vote.
The 2005 general election gave Labour a majority of 66 seats under the current system. But a closer inspection of the result reveals some disturbing truths. In England, Labour got 60,000 votes fewer than the Conservatives but won 92 more parliamentary seats.
Overall, Labour won decisively but received only a little more than a third of all votes cast.
Put another way, Tony Blair and his government were returned massively to power though only one in five of those entitled to vote actually voted for them. How can that be right?
Blight on democracy
AV would go some way to redressing the imbalances and unfairness that is the inevitable consequence of first-past-the-post. Last May, UKIP polled 919,546 votes and did not even come close to winning a seat in Westminster.
Compare that to the Democratic Unionist Party in Northern Ireland, which polled just 168,216 votes and were rewarded with eight seats.
More importantly, under AV, there is no barrier to the electors voting their conscience on the first ballot. AV will mean that people will no longer have to vote tactically on the first ballot. They can vote for the candidate they prefer and their vote will still count.
The electors can then give their next preference to the party or candidate they next prefer. AV sweeps away the blight on British democracy of people having to vote for a second choice candidate in order to stop another party or candidate winning.
Further, a key element of AV is that by definition the winning candidate will have received at least 50% of the vote in the round in which they are elected.
That is why UKIP backs AV as the way forward. And who knows? It could be the first step towards proportional representation.
One final point. Many people who oppose AV do so on the belief that it will lead to coalition government. The last time I looked, the UK had a coalition government and that was as a result of first-past-the-post.