BBC News

AV voting referendum: Frederick Forsyth's viewpoint

By Frederick Forsyth
Author and Daily Express columnist

image captionThe novelist says the current system is imperfect but the best on offer

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. The BBC is asking a variety of people to give their view.

I oppose the change of the British voting system from first-past-the-post to alternative vote (AV) for three reasons.

The first is that every parliamentary or congressional democracy in the world has long and hard studied the various manners in which people may vote for their elected tribunes.

Scholars of enormous erudition have pored over the alternates - in the British case the late Roy Jenkins.

He recommended an immensely complicated system which was promptly repudiated by the government - which had tasked him with his study - and all subsequent governments.

But he also rejected AV on its own.

Worldwide, just three countries have decided to use it. In the largest, Australia, opinion polls in recent years have shown more than half of people want to revert to first-past-the-post.

'Immensely complicated'

Of the other two one is - of all places - Papua New Guinea. If it were so brilliant, it would be universal.

Secondly, and contrary to the propaganda, it is immensely complicated and therefore confusing to the voter. It is expensive to introduce and operate - the figure of £126m extra has been calculated.

And the results, far from being "fair", can often be the antithesis of the people's wishes as expressed by opinion polls.

But - and this is why the Lib Dems want it - it almost always produces coalitions, usually ineffectual and short-lived.

And thirdly, in the UK it has for years been rejected by both the Lib Dems and the Electoral Reform Society which now both clamour for it because they cannot have the single transferable vote that they really want.

The richest and strongest democracy in the world is the United States and it uses our system too.

Winston Churchill once said: "Democracy is the worst government system we know... except all the others".

First-past-the-post is also like that and we should stick with it. It is imperfect but better than the others.